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Men avoid prison with guilty pleas in Chicago racial beating

Kwidzinski, Jasas and Clark
Kwidzinski, left, and Jasas got probation and community service; Clark remains brain-damaged  
October 19, 1998
Web posted at: 10:40 p.m. EDT (0240 GMT)

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Two white men accused of brutally beating a 13-year-old black child who ventured into their neighborhood pleaded guilty to reduced charges Monday and were let off with probation and community service.

Victor Jasas, 18, and Michael Kwidzinski, 21, had been charged with attempted first-degree murder and other offenses in the 1997 attack that left Lenard Clark brain-damaged.

The original charges could have carried 30 years in prison; instead the men pleaded guilty to aggravated battery and received 30 months probation.

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A third man, Frank Caruso Jr., 19, was convicted last month of aggravated battery and a hate crime. He received eight years in prison.

Clark was attacked after riding his bike into the mostly white Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport. He crossed a bridge into the neighborhood from the housing project where he lived. He and a playmate put air in their bicycle tires, then lingered to play some football.

The three young white men were accused of knocking Lenard from his bicycle, then kicking and pummeling him until he lost consciousness.

Lenard Clark
Lenard Clark before the beating  

Two sets of rules: 'one black, one white'

Reaction from some members of Chicago's African-American community was swift and critical Monday.

Outside the courthouse, Zakiyyah Muhammad of the Universal House of Refuge said the courts appeared to follow two sets of rules, "one black, one white."

"They weren't prosecuted, they walked. They just left up out of here," Muhammad continued. Gesturing to a crowd of nearby black men, she added: "Would these brothers here have been able to walk if they beat a white boy over in their neighborhood?"

The prosecutors' case against all three defendants began to disintegrate when one witness was murdered in an apparent robbery attempt and a second witness disappeared. That witness is the subject of a nationwide search and is believed to be the only person who could place Jasas and Kwidzinski at the scene.

Prosecutors said only that they were aware of alleged organized crime connections to Caruso's father.

In addition to 30 months of probation, Jasas and Kwidzinski must serve 300 hours of community service each.

After the verdicts, prosecutor Dick Devine insisted, "Everyone charged in this case has been held responsible and found guilty."

He added: "None of this has been easy."

Lenard Clark's mother left the court without comment.

Correspondent Jeff Flock and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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