By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“I never felt that Mandla put us first,” Lindiwe said. “He’s always had a heart for the masses, but in that you lose the heart for your family.”
It took a marathon of fasting and praying and sweating to resolve the crisis. “We just gave it up to God. Things really turned around for us after that. They were moving forward. It’s strange how everything can finally be on the right path, and then this happens.”
In Africa, a court might have viewed Mandla’s smashup differently — not as a crime of passion, but as an initiation rite gone wrong. “Once he explained the circumstances, they would have understood,” said his Ghanaian-born lawyer, Nana Gyamfi. “ ‘Okay, you were in a trance state.’ They would have admonished him: ‘How are you training other people, when you’re not clear yourself?’ ” The case would have been a civil one, she said, resolvable with an apology and a payment to the injured boy’s family. In Los Angeles, however, a harsher set of rules applied.
Four months, an eternity in jail, would pass before Mandla received even a preliminary hearing. In part, the delay was his doing. After his arrest, he was assigned a public defender but switched to a private attorney. That lawyer ordered a psychologist’s report, but before it could be filed, Mandla fired him. “We didn’t trust him,” Lindiwe told me. (The attorney declined to comment on their falling-out, but said, “I thought he had a decent case.”) Mandla eventually hired Gyamfi, whose South-Central–based firm, the Human Rights Advocacy Community Law Office, often handles controversial cases involving immigrants. She was just beginning to hunt for expert witnesses and prepare a strategy.
Key to Mandla’s defense, said Gyamfi, would be a doctrine known as “legal unconsciousness,” which posits that a defendant in a profoundly altered state of consciousness — one not caused by drug abuse or other intentional means — cannot be held responsible for certain crimes. In an attempted-murder case, “You have to be able to show specific intent to kill,” said Gyamfi, a portly woman with dreadlocks and gold-rimmed glasses. The issue was whether Mandla’s frightening words had any literal meaning. “Yes, he allegedly said, ‘I’m going to kill you all,’ but given his mental state, how much credence do you give that?”
Meanwhile, Lindiwe was fighting a desperate bureaucratic battle: The Department of Child and Family Services asked her to sign a permanent restraining order barring Mandla from contact with the kids, and when she refused, social workers allegedly threatened to revoke her custody as well. (The DCFS supervisor in charge of the case refused to comment for this article, and others involved did not return phone calls.) The department backed off only when it became clear that Mandla wouldn’t be coming home anytime soon, but the matter remained ?unresolved.
Mandla was experiencing his own tribulations in the Los Angeles County penal system. For a spiritual seeker concerned with bodily purity, jailhouse meals were a torment. One lunchtime, he urged his comrades to boycott the grub — “This is not healthy,” he shouted — and was thrown up against a wall by an offended deputy. Soon afterward, a cellmate craving a cigarette disabled a smoke alarm; since no one would squeal, the guards stripped half a dozen men to their underwear and shoved them into a cell designed for two. “We’re in there, it’s freezing, for 18, 19 hours,” Mandla said later. “No food, nothing to drink, the toilet doesn’t work. I say to the guard, ‘Let me out! I’ve got my hemorrhoids going here!’ He says to me, ‘Maybe if you’d stop landing on so many dicks, you’d be all right.’ ” Mandla laughed incredulously.
He finally got his preliminary hearing one afternoon in November, in the fortresslike courthouse across from City Hall. Lindiwe and about a dozen friends and supporters — classmates from AFI, aspiring directors for whom Mandla had shot commercial reels, a grandmotherly South African woman who ran an HIV/AIDS charity — sat in the courtroom. Mandla was led out of the holding pen in shackles and a blue jump suit, and seated at a long table. His angular face, set off by a sparse goatee, was tense as 16-year-old Patrick took the stand.
A slim, refined-looking boy in a black sweater and slacks, the younger Masekela stepson seemed reluctant to rehash the events of July 3; he hunched in his seat and spoke in a subdued monotone. At first, he said, Mandla had been ebullient, greeting his guests with hugs and singing the South African national anthem as he drove. But when they reached the park, his mood changed. As the group hiked uphill, Mandla began chanting wildly and running in circles. He rolled down a small cliff. Then he stood, pointed at each of the boys, and said, “I am sorry, I’m going to have to kill you, you, you, you. You're going to come back as rats.” Later, as they headed down the switchbacks in the van, Mandla repeated, this time in a whisper, “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to kill you. I’m sorry.”