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Wednesday, November 7, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Teen found guilty in Mardi Gras death

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — A 17-year-old shown on videotape hitting one man with his fist and bashing two others with a skateboard was convicted today of second-degree murder and assault during the city's Mardi Gras riot.

Jerell Thomas was found guilty in the death of 20-year-old Kristopher Kime. Kime's mother, Kim Kime-Parks, gasped as the jury's first guilty finding was read. She choked back sobs as the foreman completed the reading.

Thomas was convicted of two counts of second-degree assault for attacks on two other men. He could face a maximum penalty of 22 years in prison under state sentencing guidelines. No sentencing date was set.

He showed no reaction as the verdict was read. His family left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.

As the King County Superior Court jury filed out of the courtroom, Kime's grandmother, Beverly Ann Schukar, pinned on a handmade brooch that read "In loving memory of Kris Kime." Defense lawyers had insisted that she remove it during the trial.

The verdict "doesn't bring him back, but at least the person who caused his death was punished for it," she said.

Kime's father, Ken Kime, wiped away tears as he spoke with reporters.

"I think it's just closing another chapter. I've been able to see another chapter of my son's life," he said.

"I really felt the evidence was so strong — I felt they couldn't have made any other decision."

The jury began deliberations earlier today.

The panel saw video footage of Thomas punching Kime in the head three times, and of him hitting the two other men in the head with a skateboard.

In closing arguments Tuesday, defense attorney Jeff Cohen did not deny that Thomas assaulted several people when Mardi Gras celebrations grew violent late on Feb. 27 and early the following morning. He even asked jurors to return guilty verdicts on the second-degree assault charges.

But he asked them to consider the possibility that someone else might have caused Kime's fatal injury.

"This case is a tragedy," Cohen said. "But it is not a murder."

An estimated 4,000 revelers had packed the city's historic downtown Pioneer Square neighborhood when alcohol-fueled fights broke out. Groups of young men, some wielding brass knuckles or skateboards, attacked people at random. About 70 people were injured.

Witnesses said Kime was struck and knocked to the ground as he tried to help a frightened woman who had fallen in the melee. He died of massive head injuries.

Police commanders, including Chief Gil Kerlikowske, ordered officers to stand by during the riot, fearing any move would only incite the crowd further.

The department's own investigation found that commanders handled the riot poorly and were unprepared for the crowd that showed up for the final night of Mardi Gras celebrations.

The police response was also criticized in an independent report commissioned by the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

In a tape-recorded interview, Thomas told detectives he had punched Kime and identified himself in television video footage of the attack.

But defense lawyers insisted there was no proof that he dealt the fatal blow.

The defense theorized that someone might have stomped or fallen on Kime.

Dr. James Schuster, a neurosurgeon at Harborview Medical Center, testified that Kime's brain injury was not consistent with such a scenario, since no shoe marks or debris from the street were found on his head.

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