The medical examiner said Arthur McDuffie's skull had been shattered like an egg. Some of the police officers at the scene were sickened.
"He looked like somebody painted his face with a can of red paint," former Miami policeman Richard Gotowala recalled in one deposition. "They hit him in vengeance. Everybody was beating this guy upside his head."
A black insurance salesman who had borrowed his cousin's motorcycle, Arthur McDuffie, 33, died from the brutal beating he got at the end of a high-speed chase early last Dec. 17.
Five white Dade Country (Metro) police officers, men who patrol the unincorporated areas outside the city limits here, were quickly charged in connection with the killing and a clumsy attempt to cover it up. The state attorney's office promised a vigorous prosecution, "using every resource at our command."
The five went on trial across the state in Tampa, on charges including second-degree murder, manslaughter and tampering with the evidence. Last Saturday, an all-white, all-male jury acquitted four defendants. The fifth had been acquitted earlier on a directed verdict.
That night, Miami exploded in the worst race riot in the city's history. Blacks roamed the streets, shouting "McDuffie" as they burned and looted the stores of Liberty City, the predominantly black area where the husky ex-Marine had been bludgeoned.
The finger-pointing began just as quickly. Some blamed the jury. Others blamed the prosecution. What seemed an open-and-shut case of police murder had turned into a disaster.
Some officers who took part in the beating were immunized for their testimony. Another, who was never charged, had admitted kicking McDuffie in the head, "to get a shot in." The case seems to have suffered not so much from a lack of evidence, but an overabundance of it that contained conflicts which were exploited by defense lawyers.
The tragedy of Arthur McDuffie began just before 2 a.m. on Dec. 17 when Metro police sergeant Ira Diggs III spotted a speeding 1973 orange-and-black Kawasaki and gave chase, reportedly announcing on his radio, "I'm going to get that guy."
More police joined in as the pursuit reached speeds of 100 miles an hour, with McDuffie rushing past red lights and stop signs, perhaps because his driver's license had been suspended, perhaps because some lawmen had started shooting.
Three Metro officers, Alex Marrero, Mark Meier and Charles Veverka Jr., according to court pleadings and various statements, caught up with him after about eight minutes, inside city limits, when McDuffie showed down.
Meier testified last month that he heard McDuffied shout, "I give up," before anyone touched him. He said he had drawn his service revolver on McDuffie and told him, "Freeze!"
Suddenly, another officer pulled the black man off his motorcycle and yanked McDuffie's helmet off. Within seconds, others rushed up and "started striking him with Kel-Lites [long, heavy metal flashlights] and nightsticks," Meier said. He said McDuffie was "not making any aggressive actions" when the beating started.
Moments later, Meier said, he saw Marrero step up and straddle McDuffie, who was by now "lying on his side, his hands behind his back."
Marrero, the only Cuban defendant and the only one to be charged with second-degree murder, then took his Kel-Lite or nightstick and smashed McDuffie in the head two or three times, Meier testified.
"I got splattered with the blood," Veverka remembered. He said he recalled Marrero had said, "Easy, one at a time,'" before stepping up and raising his hands above his head to deliver the sledgehammer blows. "I turned my back and walked to the car," Veverka said.
Metro officer William F. (Mad Dog) Hanlon, who had also been charged with manslaughter but then was forced to testify under a grant of immunity, gave the same account. Hanlon also said he had already choked McDuffie to the ground himself with a nightstick and had handcuffed the man's hands behind his back before Marrero waded in.
Moments later, Hanlon said, Metro sergeant Herb Evans told him to "ride up on the bike" and Hanlon drove his squad car over the motorcycle. By now, McDuffie was propped against another police car. Hanlon said he tapped McDuffie lightly on the knees, remarking that "if you want to break someone's legs, you should hit him here."
"Officer Marrero took the nightstick out of my hands and struck in a similar fashion, a little harder than I did," Hanlon testified.
At that point, a Fire Rescue siren began growing louder. Someone said, "Cool it." Sgt. Diggs reportedly told the Miami police officers who were present that the county would handle the case and warned, "You didn't see nothing."
Sometime before dawn, Hanlon said, he talked to Evans, the alleged "architect of the cover-up," by phone. "He said we have to make the scene look like an accident," Hanlon testified.
Inconsistencies in the official report and the complaints of Miami police officers disgusted by what they had seen spurred an investigation. The trial began in Tampa on March 31 after Circuit Judge Lenore C. Nesbitt granted a change of venue, calling the case "a time bomb [that] I don't want to go off in my courtroom or this community."
The accused included Marrero, Sgt. Diggs, and officer Michael Watts, whom one Miami policeman had also identified as having belted McDuffie in the head. Watts and Diggs were accused of manslaughter and of tampering with the evidence. Sgt. Evans was also accused of tampering with the evidence. A fifth Metro officer, Ubaldo Del Toro, was charged with being an accessory after the fact, but was acquitted on a directed verdict before the case went to the jury.
Defense lawyers were bent on keeping blacks off the jury and they succeeded.
At least 10 blacks were still on the panel of prospective jurors after it had been winnowed down to less than nine persons, but the defense team used its peremptory challenges to keep them all off.
"A black man has to return to the community where he lives," Miami lawyer Phil Carlton, who represented Watts, said today in defending the strategy. "I cannot believe a black man could have ignored the repercussions if he had voted for acquittal. If the trial had been held in Miami, that man's life would be worth nothing."
Defense lawyer Edward Carhart, who represented Evans, said some regarded the jurors who were chosen as "rednecks," but he said they were just "conservative, middle-class-America type of people . . . hard-nosed businessmen" who paid attention to the inconsistencies in the state's evidence as to who did what.
The trial lasted seven weeks, with a television camera whirring away, producing excerpts for nightly feeds to Miami's television stations. State Attorney Janet Reno had called the slaying "one of the most tragic events in the history of this county," and it was played as such. But the defense lawyers kept hammering away at the grants of immunity for Meier and more especially for Veverka, the son of a police lieutenant, and for Hanlon, who had once shot a man in the back.
The lawyers charged that Meier and Veverka had been given "a license to lie" because of unusual immunity agreements that required them to stick to the final stories they gave to Dade County police although these conflicted with earlier statements.
Marrero, an officer with a record of police brutality complaints as well as commendations for his work, insisted that McDuffie had grabbed his gun twice and that he struck the man as hard as he could with his nightstick in fear of his own life.
Still another Miami officer, John Gerant, testified that in a two-minute visit to the scene, he thought he saw Watts -- but not Marrero -- straddling McDuffie's inert body and hitting him with a Kel-Lite. He said he saw 10 to 15 Metro officers surrounding McDuffie. Gerant said he also saw a Miami officer, Alex Prince, drag McDuffie aside.
"It was like a barroom brawl, frankly," Carhart said. "Who done it? The medical examiner said McDuffie took five blows to the head and he couldn't say which killed him. He said it was a combination of them."
The jury took just two hours and 40 minutes to find the four remaining dedendants not guilty. The jury foreman suggested to reporters that Hanlon and Veverka may have been more culpable than some of the defedants. The prosecution said that all it would have done differently was get a different set of jurors.
Carhart maintained that the jurors were heavily persuaded there was a reasonable doubt as to whether the right men had been put on trial. He maintained the state charged too many officers in an effort to make a big splash and, as a result, wound up convicting no one.