On April 2, 1971, in Riverside, Calif., a 95 percent white town utterly indifferent to the nation's boiling race problems,...
THE AMBUSH MURDERS: The True Account of the Killing of Two California Policemen
by ‧RELEASE DATE: Oct. 15, 1979
On April 2, 1971, in Riverside, Calif., a 95 percent white town utterly indifferent to the nation's boiling race problems, two white policemen were ambushed in a dark alley on a routine (but phony) burglary call. From the confused reports of several witnesses, it appeared that four blacks shotgunned the cops and then ran through a black park--in different directions--to the black district. Panic struck the Riverside police, with heavy cop vibes rumbling down black streets. The only suspect, at first, was Gary Wallace Lawton, a black soapboxer who lived nearby and was seen hiking away from the scene of the crime while crowds rushed toward it. Under pressure, Riverside detectives constructed a case around Lawton where essentially there was none; two more suspects were brought before the grand jury; and all three were indicted. As Bradlee relates the story--from multiple points of view--the prosecutor's case was so full of holes that nearly half a dozen flimsy, tainted, perjuring witnesses were needed to keep it together. The cops were feeding snitches into the cells of the accused, hoping they'd reveal information to be used against them in court. The first long trial resulted in a hung jury heavily weighted toward acquittal; the second trial ended in a hung jury too, but weighted this time toward a guilty verdict. The prosecutor, encouraged, shot for a third trial, focused on Lawton alone, lost decisively--after nearly four years in custody, Lawton walked out free! It's up to the reader to decide whether the legal system is a ghastly farce or profoundly valuable. Bradlee is so assiduously objective that, while he makes the case clear, his account has no force or direction.