One of three white men accused in a beating that left a black 13-year-old severely brain damaged was acquitted Friday of attempted murder.
Frank Caruso, 19, instead was convicted of hate crimes against both the beaten boy, Lenard Clark, and one of the boy's friends, Clevon Nicholson, 14. He also was convicted of aggravated battery against Clark.Caruso could be sentenced to up to 13 years in prison Oct. 13. Friends and relatives of Caruso were sobbing as the guilty verdicts were read but broke into a cheer at word of the acquittal.
Caruso was identified in court as the instigator of the March 21, 1997, attack that left Clark crumpled and unconscious in a street a few blocks north of Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox.
The incident stunned Chicago and brought a denunciation of racial hatred from President Clinton in his weekly radio address. Lenard now attends a special school but is having both emotional and academic problems as a result of the beating.
The attack happened at the edge of Chicago's Bridgeport area, a white enclave and for decades the political bastion of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's family.
The neighborhood lies just across an expressway from a long row of desolate public housing projects where Clark lived with his mother.
Defense attorneys argued that police had wrongly blamed Caruso in a hasty effort to solve a case that threatened to deepen racial conflict on the city's South Side. Prosecutors, however, called him a "violent racist street punk."
"Have the courage, ladies and gentlemen, to deal with the hard facts that evil men like Frank Caruso confront us with," prosecutor Bob Berlin declared in his closing argument. Several jurors were in tears.
Nicholson testified that he and Clark went to Bridgeport to play football with boys they knew there when they encountered young men coming from two directions. He said that Caruso first punched him on the side of the head, then hit Clark.
The boy said he ran off and took refuge in a mass transit station. He couldn't see what happened next to his friend, who was left so badly brain damaged by the pummeling that he had to relearn how to take a shower and brush his teeth during six weeks in a hospital.
Two other young Bridgeport men also are charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery and a hate crime for the beating and face trial Oct. 19.