LONDON — Two white men were given life sentences Wednesday for the racially motivated murder of a black teenager nearly 19 years ago in a case that rocked British society and led to a major shake-up within Scotland Yard.
However, the men are expected to serve far less time in prison for the killing of Stephen Lawrence, the 18-year-old who was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus in South London in April 1993.
Lawrence was the victim of an unprovoked attack by thugs who shouted racial epithets as they punched and knifed him. A botched police investigation followed, undermined by what an official inquiry said was pervasive racism within the police force itself.
The case eventually sparked significant changes in police practices and Scotland Yard's relationship with minority communities, proving as pivotal for London authorities as the Rodney King beating and its aftermath were for policing in Los Angeles.
But justice came much later for Lawrence's family, especially his parents, who waged a tireless campaign to bring their son's killers to trial. It took new DNA evidence unearthed a few years ago to secure murder convictions Tuesday against Gary Dobson and David Norris, members of a racist gang who were identified as suspects from the beginning.
At London's famous Old Bailey courthouse, Justice Colman Treacy sentenced the two men, now in their 30s, for committing a "terrible and evil crime . . . for no other reason than racial hatred."
Despite the life sentences, the judge was obliged by law to take into account the fact that both men were minors at the time of the attack, which means that Dobson could be freed after slightly more than 15 years in prison and Norris after 14.
Three other men thought to have taken part in the slaying have not been charged. But officials hope either Dobson or Norris will now be persuaded to break the pact of silence that police say has prevailed among Lawrence's attackers and stymied attempts to prosecute them.