Originally created 07/10/98

King is a cool courtroom veteran



NEW YORK -- The big man in a business suit and distinctive hairstyle peered down at a sketch in progress by a courtroom artist and boomed, "Ah, Rembrandt, capture it for posterity."

Another time, during a lunch break in his fraud trial at the federal court house, Don King noticed a judge he knew and said, "Hello, your honor."

When the jurist, who was not involved in King's trial, asked how the promoter was, King grinned and said, "Just living the process."

Of course, he meant due process -- a process that led Thursday to King's acquittal on all charges that he faked a contract to cheat Lloyd's of London out of $350,000 after one of his boxing promotions was canceled in 1991.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on charges against his company, Don King Productions Inc.

"Thank you all very much," King said to the jurors. He then shook each by the hand.

During the trial and jury deliberations, the veteran promoter acted like a veteran fighter before a major bout -- or one awaiting a decision in such a match. Nerves were not on display.

He greeted friends and acquaintances, some who attended almost every day of the trial that began April 17. He smiled and nodded at jurors. Sometimes he joked, other times he reminisced.

At one point during the deliberations, the jury asked for a dictionary. King laughed when someone told him maybe they wanted to find out if they were going to be a hung jury or a hanged jury. A first trial on the insurance fraud charge ended in a mistrial Nov. 17, 1995, after a jury could not reach a verdict.

Muhammad Ali didn't act any more confident before his first fight against Joe Frazier than King acted during the trial.

King, of course, has had ample opportunity to polish his courtroom persona.

He's been involved in numerous civil suits, several grand jury investigations and four criminal trials.

King, 66, was convicted of second-degree murder Feb. 23, 1967. The charge was reduced to manslaughter and he served 3 years, 11 months in an Ohio prison. King had shot and killed man in 1954, but it was ruled justifiable homicide.

In 1984, King was named in a 23-count indictment for income tax evasion, but was acquitted of all counts Nov. 19, 1985. Then there was the mistrial on the insurance fraud charges.

"This is truly a victory for one of the greatest nations in the world," the "Only in America" man said of his latest court triumph.

Before the verdict, the courtroom "Rembrandt" had made a painting showing a dejected King and a dejected Peter Fleming Jr., his lawyer, that would be sold in the event of a conviction. He also had prepared a picture showing a smiling Fleming and jubilant King swinging his clenched hands in triumph.

It's almost as if the artist had drawn King, minus a bat, hitting a home run.

In a sense, with Thursday's verdict, Don King had.