Painting himself and his attackers as victims of circumstance, Reginald Denny shook hands Monday with one of the men who beat him unconscious in the opening moments of the Los Angeles riots.
After meeting Henry Watson during a taping of the Donahue show, Denny said the rage of attackers was understandable.
"How many people ever got mad at somebody and just want to grab 'em and shake 'em," Denny said. "That community just wanted to grab somebody and shake 'em awake, and I was the person they shook."
Watson said he was sorry for what happened to Denny _ but not for his part in the riots.
"I'm sorry for the injuries Mr. Denny suffered," Watson said after they watched a videotape of the attack.
"Are you sorry for your participation?" asked host Phil Donahue.
"I have mixed feelings about it," Watson answered. "What happened to Mr. Denny was terribly unfortunate. He was an innocent victim."
Watson was one of several men who attacked Denny after he was dragged from his truck at an intersection. The April 29, 1992, attack was the flashpoint of the riots that erupted after four white police officers were acquitted of most state charges in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.
Denny is white; his attackers were black.
Watson was convicted of misdemeanor assault but acquitted of the most serious charges against him, including attempted murder. He pleaded guilty to a felony charge of assault, the one charge on which the jury had deadlocked, and was spared a prison term.
Co-defendant Damian Williams was convicted of mayhem. He faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Denny said he could forgive Watson because of his religious beliefs and because he wanted to make his daughter proud.
"It wasn't me against Mr. Watson," Denny said. "It was a lot of bad things in a community, and I was just there when something went wrong."