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White ex-officer guilty in black motorist's death

Walter Budzyn

But Detroit jury opts for manslaughter, not murder

March 19, 1998
Web posted at: 8:05 p.m. EDT (2005 GMT)

DETROIT (CNN) -- A former white Detroit police officer was found guilty Thursday of involuntary manslaughter in his retrial for the beating death of a black motorist.

Walter Budzyn, 52, had been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Malice Green, who died in 1992 after a confrontation with Budzyn and his partner, Larry Nevers, in front of a crack house. The jury of three men and nine women found him guilty of the lesser charge.

Budzyn showed no emotion as the verdict was read. His lawyer later criticized the verdict as a "compromise" and said Budzyn, who has maintained his innocence, will appeal.

"Walt knows that a jury can't make him a criminal. He's not any more a criminal this afternoon than he was yesterday afternoon or 5 1/2 years ago," said attorney James Howarth. "But inside, it had to be a kick in the stomach."

Malice Green

In 1993, Budzyn was found guilty of second-degree murder for Green's death after a racially charged trial, and he served 4 1/2 years of an eight-year sentence. But last July, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the verdict, in part because the jury of 11 blacks and one white had viewed the movie "Malcolm X" during a break in deliberations.

That movie opens with a videotape of the beating of black motorist Rodney King by white Los Angeles police officers -- an incident that happened just 20 months before Green's death. Budzyn's trial came just months after the Los Angeles officers were acquitted on state charges in California, sparking widespread rioting.

Budzyn will be sentenced on April 17 and could receive a sentence ranging from time served to 15 years in prison. Prosecutor Doug Baker conceded Thursday that Budzyn probably won't be returned to prison.

Despite the jury's decision not to find Budzyn guilty of second-degree murder, which could have carried a life sentence, members of Green's family hugged as the verdict was announced and said they were satisfied with the verdict.

"That's what I was looking for -- the word 'guilty,'" said his sister, Treise Green.

Prosecutors alleged that Green died after being beaten to death with a flashlight by Budzyn and Nevers.

Budzyn, who had been a Detroit officer for nearly 20 years, maintained it was Nevers who hit Green with the flashlight, and he said the two officers struggled with Green in self-defense after the suspect reached into the glove box of his car with a clenched hand.

But eyewitnesses -- some of whom were acquaintances of Green and some of whom admitted smoking crack cocaine shortly before the altercation -- said they saw Budzyn beat Green.

In 1993, Nevers and Budzyn were tried in the same courtroom but had different juries deliberating their fate. Nevers also was found guilty of second-degree murder, and a federal judge overturned his conviction -- a decision prosecutors are appealing. If that appeal is unsuccessful, they say they will retry Nevers.

In the first trial, Budzyn's jurors were chosen only from mostly black Detroit, and all but one juror was black. In the meantime, court systems in Detroit and suburban Wayne County were combined, and the second jury, drawing from a larger, more racially mixed pool, consisted of eight whites, three blacks and one Asian.

Detroit Bureau Chief Ed Garsten contributed to this report.


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