Scene depicting Williams dancing over hurt Reginald Denny in 1992
*LOS ANGELES, CALIF. – Damien “Football” Williams, 38, the infamous member of the L.A. Four and the most recognized participant of L.A. riots due to the live news broadcast of his attack on white truck driver Reginald Denny and because of his memorable nickname which was repeated frequently in news media, breaks his silence on the 20th anniversary of the events at the South L.A. intersection of Normandie and Florence.
Williams, who was identified as the 18-year-old man who had used a brick on Denny by computer enhancement of the videotape which revealed an identifying tattoo was charged with attempted murder as well as assault and mayhem. A then member of the Eight Trey (83) Gangster Crips, after the riots the Mexican Mafia allegedly had a “hit” out on Williams, the contract to kill him was picked up by the now infamous and then little known MS-13. In 1993, Williams was convicted of mayhem and misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 10 years. In 1997, Williams was released for good behavior, but in 2003, he was convicted for the 2000 murder of a drug dealer. He will not be eligible for parole until 2019.
Williams, breaks his silence and speaks exclusively to L.A. journalist Jasmyne A. Cannick on the record from California’s Tehachapi State Prison about regrets, the mafia hit on his life, gang banging, and just who is the real Damien “Football” Williams.
April 29, 1992
On April 29, 1992, at 5:39 PM, Denny loaded his red, 18-wheel truck with 27 tons of sand and began driving to a plant in Inglewood where he said the sand was due. He left the Santa Monica Freeway and took a familiar shortcut across Florence Avenue to get to his destination. His truck had no radio, so he was unaware he was driving into a riot. At 6:46 p.m., after entering the intersection at Normandie, rioters threw rocks at his windows and he heard people shouting for him to stop. Overhead, a news helicopter with reporter Bob Tur aboard captured the events that followed.
Denny stopped in the middle of the street. Antoine Miller opened the truck door, giving others the chance to pull Denny out. Another man, Henry Keith Watson, then held Denny’s head down with his foot. Denny was kicked in the abdomen by an unidentifed man. Two other unidentified men who had led a liquor store break-in earlier that day hurled a five-pound piece of medical equipment at Denny’s head and hit him three times with a claw hammer. Damian Williams then threw a slab of concrete at Denny’s head and knocked him unconscious.
Williams then did a victory dance over Denny. He then flashed gang signs at news helicopters, which were televising the events live, and pointed and laughed at Denny. Anthony Brown then spat on Denny and left with Williams. Several bystanders took pictures of Denny but did not attempt to help him. LAPD officers, despite the fact that they were in the vicinity as the attack took place, could not provide help to Denny.
After the beating, various men threw beer bottles at the unconscious Denny. Gary Williams approached Denny and rifled through his pockets. Lance Parker stopped near Denny and attempted to shoot the fuel tank of Denny’s truck but missed.
Bobby Green (a truck driver), Titus Murphy and Terri Barnett (boyfriend and girlfriend), and Lei Yuille (a dietitian), who had been watching the events on TV, came to Denny’s aid. Denny eventually regained consciousness and dragged himself back into the cab, driving away from the scene slowly and erratically, Green, himself a truck driver, boarded Denny’s truck and took over at the wheel, driving him to the hospital. At the time that Green took over, Denny was on the brink of losing consciousness again, and suffered a seizure shortly thereafter.
Paramedics who attended to Denny said he came very close to death. His skull was fractured in 91 places and pushed into the brain. His left eye was so badly dislocated that it would have fallen into his sinus cavity had the surgeons not replaced the crushed bone with a piece of plastic. A permanent crater remains in his head despite efforts to correct it. Denny had to undergo years of rehabilitative therapy and his speech and ability to walk were permanently damaged.
L.A. Four Trial
On May 12, outgoing Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates started a search for three of Denny’s attackers who were identified from the video of the beating. Gates himself arrested Damian Williams while Henry Watson and Antoine Miller were arrested by other officers. Soon afterwards Gary Williams gave himself up to the police, having stolen Denny’s wallet. The arrested three were suspected to be part of the gang 8-Tray Gangster Crips.
Gary Williams pleaded guilty to charges of robbery and assault in the spring of 1993 and was sentenced to three years in jail. Judge John W. Ouderkirk granted Miller a separate trial on the grounds that the strong evidence against Watson and Damian Williams could harm his case. The two, in addition to assault charges, were charged with attempted murder. Damian Williams was also charged with aggravated mayhem.
Edi M.O. Faal was the defense attorney for Damian Williams and Earl C. Broadly was the defense attorney for Henry Watson. On Wednesday, July 28, 1993, Watson’s and Williams’ trial began. The two were charged with the assault of Denny as well as five other motorists and two firefighters who were driving past the intersection of Florence and Normandie shortly after the start of the Los Angeles riots on April 29, 1992. At the trial, Denny faced his attackers for the first time since they had assaulted him. On August 12, 1993, a jury of five whites, three blacks, three Latinos, and one Asian was chosen.
As in the Rodney King police trial, the prosecution relied heavily on video shot by a third party, this time in a helicopter. They also planned to build up portraits of Watson and Williams as criminals, antisocial, and beyond likelihood of rehabilitation and redemption.
On Thursday, August 19, Lawrence Morrison, deputy district attorney, delivered the opening statement. A week later, the videotape of the beating was shown. The doctors who treated Denny testified, describing his wounds and their efforts to repair them and were followed by witnesses of the beating. The defense was denied direct contact with the witnesses to protect their identities. In late August, Denny’s rescuers testified for the prosecution. The prosecution rested on September 17, 1993.
The defense began pleading on September 20, making a case for unpremeditated assault. Faal began by challenging the video evidence and portrayed Williams as a victim of poverty and racism. She and Broadly tried to humanize their clients.
In the closing arguments the defense attorneys claimed Williams and Watson were being used as scapegoats for the L.A. riots.
The prosecution counter argued that the two had knowingly tried to kill Denny and were not victims.
After a few jury changes, a hung jury resulted for all charges except a felony count of mayhem for Williams, and one misdemeanor assault charge for both Williams and Watson on October 18. Watson was then given credit for time served and was released. As the families of the defendants celebrated the lesser sentences, Denny surprisingly approached Damian Williams’ mother Georgina and hugged her. Other family members then exchanged warm embraces and words of reconciliation with him.
For weeks afterwards, public debate about racism and whether the verdict was just or unjust raged on. As the debate continued, Williams was denied bail and sentenced to a maximum of ten years in prison on December 7, 1993 by Judge Ouderkirk. Williams was released early for good behavior in 1997. On December 5, 2003, he was convicted of murdering a drug dealer in July, 2000.