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Times coverage: When the shooter may not be the killer

Michael Byoune, a 19-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Inglewood police in the 3000 block of Manchester Boulevard about 1:40 a.m. Sunday, May 11. An article Thursday by Times reporters Victoria Kim and Jack Leonard looks at an interesting twist in the murder prosecution.

There's no dispute over who fired the shots that instantly killed 19-year-old Michael Byoune.

The question is, who is to blame.

It was 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday in May 2008. Byoune and a few friends were at a Rally's hamburger stand, talking to some girls, when gunshots rang out nearby. Terrified, the teenagers jumped into their dark gray Honda and tried to flee.

In the frantic few minutes that followed, two Inglewood police officers, believing the teens were shooting at them, fired 29 rounds into the Honda. Byoune, shot five times, died at the scene. A second 19-year-old suffered a gunshot wound to his leg.

Authorities now say that Byoune and his friends were innocent, unarmed victims and that police should not have shot at them. The real culprit, authorities say, was Tramond Winzer, an alleged Crip gang member who fired off a series of shots with a handgun, seeking to hit rival gang members at Rally's.

Even though police bullets killed Byoune, Winzer is the one authorities want to hold legally responsible for his death.

Prosecutors earlier this year determined that the two officers who shot Byoune reasonably acted in self-defense even though they were mistaken about who posed the threat.

Next month, Winzer, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, is expected to stand trial for Byoune's murder under a legal theory known as the "provocative act murder" doctrine. Under that theory, Winzer would be responsible if he fired the initial shots that led to Byoune's slaying by police.

One legal expert predicted that the application of the provocative act doctrine would be heatedly contested in court, and a civil attorney for Byoune's family called Winzer's prosecution scapegoating.

If it hadn't been for a botched food order, Byoune and his friends would not have been at the hamburger stand at the time of the shooting, according to law enforcement records.

Keep reading: When the shooter may not be the killer

Photo: People stand near a memorial to shooting victim Michael Byoune in a Crenshaw Boulevard parking lot. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times / May 12, 2008)

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