Thursday, April 17, 2008

Closing Arguments at 50-Shot NYPD Trial

Three detectives charged in a 50-shot barrage that killed an unarmed man on his wedding day were framed by street thugs, including two survivors seeking millions of dollars from the city, defense attorneys said Monday.

Prosecutors built their case on the unreliable testimony of friends of the victim, "a parade of convicted felons, crack dealers and men who were not strangers to weapons," James Culleton, a lawyer for one of the detectives, said in his closing argument.

Sean Bell, 23, was killed Nov. 25, 2006 - which would have been his wedding day - outside a bar where he had a bachelor party. Two friends with him in a car were wounded.

Detective Gescard Isnora fired 11 shots, Michael Oliver fired 31 times and Marc Cooper fired five times, all believing amid the chaos that they were under fire from the car, their lawyers said. Two other officers who fired were not charged.

Isnora and Oliver pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in what prosecutors have portrayed as a botched undercover operation by trigger-happy officers. Cooper pleaded not guilty to reckless endangerment.

Several friends of Bell who attended his party testified that police accounts of an argument outside the club, where police were investigating prostitution allegations, were exaggerated. Police say they overheard one of them, Joseph Guzman, say "Yo, go get my gun."

Defense attorney Paul Martin portrayed Guzman as "the catalyst of the event. He's the reason we're here today."

In grand jury testimony, Isnora said he followed Bell, Guzman and Trent Benefield to their car because he believed they were going to get a gun.

Guzman denied saying anything about a gun. He and Benefield, who both were wounded, also testified that they never heard the officers yell warnings before opening fire, and said they tried to drive away because they feared for their lives.

Isnora maintains he only resorted to deadly force after Bell bumped him with the car and smashed into an unmarked police van, and after he saw Guzman make a sudden move as though he were going for a gun.

"He used enormous restraint," a third defense attorney, Anthony Ricco, told the judge, who is hearing the case without a jury.