By Ivan Pereira
|THE SEAN BELL SHOOTING TRIAL
Nicole Paultre-Bell, 23, took the stand as a character witness and recalled her six-year relationship with the Rockaway resident. Paultre-Bell wept as she told State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman, who will decide the case, how she identified Bell's body at Jamaica Hospital on what should have been their wedding day. Bell died on Nov. 25, 2006.”He was at the morgue,” she said, holding back tears.The defense did not cross-examine her.Detectives Michael Oliver, who fired 31 shots, and Gescard Isnora, who fired 11, are being tried on manslaughter charges while their partner, Marc Cooper, who fired four shots, faces reckless endangerment charges for killing Bell and wounding his friends, Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 32. Defense attorneys contend the detectives and two other partners, Mike Carey and Paul Headley, fired at Bell and his friends because the officers thought the trio had a gun and was going to use it following an argument with a man inside a black SUV parked outside the Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica.Toward the end of the day, Assistant District Attorney Charles Testagrossa called Sean Spencer, the bouncer at the strip club, who worked the night of a bachelor party for the Richmond Hill native and his friends. Spencer, who said he had a criminal record, testified that he never saw Bell take a drink at the club nor did he see him get into any arguments with any other patron that night.The defense said police toxicology reports indicted Bell's blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit after he left the club around 4 a.m. and rammed his sedan into an unmarked police van before the detectives began firing. The bouncer said he was inside the club when the shooting erupted and did not see what happened.”I heard multiple gunshots, I believe it was between 25 and 30,” he testified. “There was a pause and then another group of shots.”James Cullerton, Oliver's attorney, questioned Spencer's reliability, reading testimony he gave to a police lieutenant following the shooting. According to his 2006 testimony, the bouncer escorted a dancer named Marsellis Payne to a black SUV following the shooting and told the driver not to go toward the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue, where the incident took place.Spencer told Cullerton he did not make those statements.Defense attorneys said the detectives were investigating suspected prostitution and drug operations in the club and had made a narcotics and prostitution arrest earlier that week. Cooper's attorney, Paul Martin, also questioned Spencer's testimony that Bell was sober claiming he was “pissy drunk” as he left the club.Spencer reiterated that he did not see Bell take a drink and he appeared sober when he left.The questioning capped off a full day of opening arguments followed by testimony that began with large protests outside the courtroom from dozens of residents and activists from across the city. The Rev. Al Sharpton energized the crowd before the court proceedings, calling for justice for the slain Rockaway resident's family.”We are not here against white cops. We are here against wrong cops,” he said.In his opening arguments, Testagrossa claimed the entire undercover squad was so fixated on closing down the strip club that they acted sloppily. The assistant district attorney said Isnora failed to properly identify himself as an officer when he approached Bell's Nissan Altima and gave conflicting orders before Bell rammed the detectives.”The evidence will show that rather than wait for backup, he decided to approach the Altima himself,” he said.He also said Oliver, who he claimed reloaded while firing, was more negligent as he did not stop himself and see that Bell and his entourage did not pose a threat.”Had he paused to assess the situation, he would have realized that there were no bullets coming from the vehicle and there was no danger to his team,” he said.Cullerton said the detectives were acting on the information that they had from Isnora and did not have enough time to reevaluate the incident.”Hindsight wisdom and Monday morning quarterbacking have no place in this court of law,” he said. “At what point during those nine to 12 seconds did my client go from being an experienced officer… to being a criminal?”Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.