January 14, 2012

The Frontpage Online
By Ari L. Noonan

Twenty-four hours after the family's civil suit trial against the California National Guard suddenly ended at the start of Day Six, Gerald Bennett, the best known of the litigants, was bursting with smiles.

Looking brighter than he ever did during the days of grim testimony, Mr. Bennett said that "I feel excellent, excellent."

Did you get what you wanted in the settlement?

"Yes," later adding a selection of salty observations.

Four years and five months after their sister was beaten to death with a baseball bat at the Culver City National Guard Armory, Mr. Bennett and his sisters Suzette and Deborah walked out of a downtown Los Angeles feeling reasonably compensated for their horrid loss.

At the start of the session, the Bennetts' lawyer, Mark Geragos, informed Judge Kevin C. Brazile that agreement had been reached with Dep. Atty. Gen. David Adida.

Terms, as always, are a tightly guarded secret.

Mr. Adida, for example, was directed not to comment at all.

"Adida thought we were going to cower to him," Mr. Bennett said, "because the military (National Guard members) were parading around in their uniforms in the courtroom, maybe trying to impress the jury. They may have.

"Remember, this was a predominantly white jury. The jurors looked at us, a black family, like, 'why should we give you anything?' That was their attitude. They weren't looking at the facts. They were looking at the fact we were black.

"All but one member of the jury was white. It seemed like they were a setup. We are in downtown L.A. What is the likelihood you would get a jury that looks like they are from Simi Valley?

"Kudos, though, to Geragos and Geragos's law firm. They only have had the case since October, and they went in and did what they had to do to get this settled. And then they said, 'We can't go no further.'"

Mr. Bennett has been the chief spokesman for his grieving family since his youngest sibling, JoAnn Crystal Harris, 29 years old and pregnant, was clubbed to death, Friday, Aug. 24, 2007, by a worried, infuriated, married Sgt. Scott Ansman, who mistakenly presumed he was the father.

Mr. Ansman now is serving a life term without-possibility-of-parole.

In the Bennett-Harris family's wrongful death suit against the California National Guard, the central claim was that Mr. Ansman's co-workers knew of his intention to first harm and later kill his part-time girlfriend.

Guard Sgt. Erik Hein testified that Mr. Ansman, his closest co-worker, found out in June Ms. Harris was pregnant, at the time his wife was giving birth to their third child.

Mr. Ansman's behavior turned "weird" and bizarre," prompting Sgt. Hein to tell numerous superiors. Eventually, he led a delegation to the Culver City Police Dept. three weeks before the torturous homicide.

However, according to testimony, no one knew Ms. Harris's name until the eve of her murder.

It has been the contention of the family from early in the case, and of Sgt. Hein that the National Guard played a shockingly passive role.

In the four intervening years, his colleagues have won promotions in rank while Sgt. Hein, who has suffered through tragedy in his own home since the murder, remains at his same level.

Mr. Bennett and his family went through two teams of lawyers before landing the noted Mr. Geragos 90 days ago.

"I was thinking of him a long time ago," Mr. Bennett said, but there was a family connection with Robert McNeil from perhaps the most prominent black firm in Los Angeles. That relationship ended in a train wreck.

Before parting company with the McNeil team, there was sentiment, Mr. Bennett said, for suing the Culver City police as well as the National Guard. "I begged to differ with that," he said. "I have love for Culver City. It wasn't Culver City's fault. It was the military's fault."

When Mr. Ansman's commanding officer took the witness stand, "he said he didn't even want Ansman nowhere around him. They knew what type of dude he was.

"But when Hein refused to wear a wire after they went to the police, there wasn't anything the police could do."

To read other articles featuring the attorneys of Geragos & Geragos, please click here .