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Brawley Trio Defamed Prosecutor

A jury ruled that the Rev. Al Sharpton and two other legal advisers to Tawana Brawley defamed a former prosecutor by accusing him of raping the black teen-ager in 1987. The jury was then to decide how much to award the ex-prosecutor in damages.

The verdict came after a tumultuous, eight-month trial and five days of deliberations in Steven Pagones' $395 million lawsuit against Sharpton, Alton Maddox Jr. and C. Vernon Mason.

The jury found Sharpton liable for making seven defamatory statements about Pagones, Maddox for making two and Mason for one. Pagones, a former assistant county prosecutor, is white; all three Brawley advisers are black.

The jury was to return to consider damages.

The racially inflammatory case began in 1987 when Miss Brawley, then 15, was found four days after disappearing from her home. She was discovered in a garbage bag with dog feces smeared on her body and racial epithets scrawled on her. She claimed a gang of white law enforcement officers had abducted and raped her.

During the furor, the advisers leveled repeated, unsubstantiated charges that Pagones was among those who attacked her.

A grand jury pronounced her story a hoax in 1988 and exonerated Pagones.

Pagones had also sued Miss Brawley. Her refusal to answer repeated subpoenas led to a 1991 default judgment for Pagones.

After the verdict was read, Pagones leaned over to kiss his wife, Niki, as tears welled in his eyes. He called it a bittersweet victory.

Outside Dutchess County Court, he said the three Brawley advisers had "hurt a lot of people."

"They hurt race relations," he said. "We have enough problems in society, we don't need people like Mason and Maddox and Sharpton screaming out false allegations and creating further hatred."

He added: "I'm hoping the jury comes back tomorrow and helps me gain some accountability from them."

His wife said: "To tell you the truth it's all been horrible. At least now they have to pay for it to a certain extent. It was a matter of principle, not a matter of money. Do I think we'll ever collect any money from them? I don't know, but we will pursue that."

Maddox, meanwhile, maintained his innocence and insisted that the Brawley case "was not a hoax."

Sharpton was not in court to hear the verdict, but his lawyer Michael Hardy said, "This is a battle that's obviously not over yet."

The trial revived many of the racial tensions that marked the Brawley case a decade ago.

Charges of racism from defense lawyers, courtroom shouting matches and a trial judge who once walked off the bench in disgust led to a widespread perception that the trial was out of control.

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