Sean Bell’s last words: ‘I love you’

By Ivan Pereira

In long and sometimes heated testimony Tuesday, the 32-year-old Rockaway native recounted to Queens Criminal Court Justice Arthur Cooperman the events during the early morning hours on Nov. 25, 2006 outside the Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica. Guzman said he was frightened when Detective Gescard Isnora started firing his weapon at Bell's car on the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue because he thought he was being attacked by a madman.”The dude [was] shooting like he was crazy… like he was out of his mind, like he was shooting at a tank,” he testified.Guzman, said he tried to get away from Isnora, who was standing on the passenger side of the car and crawled over Bell to the driver's window. After being shot 16 times, Guzman said he thought he was dead and wished farewell to Bell, 23, who lay underneath him.”I said, 'I love you, son.' He looked back and said, 'I love you, too,' and he stopped moving,” Guzman said.The testimony brought tears to the eyes of Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre-Bell, who planned to walk down the aisle later that morning, and made Bell's parents leave the hushed courtroom.Isnora and four other officers opened fire after Bell rammed the sedan into a unmarked police van when the detective approached him for questioning. Bell was killed while Guzman and friend Trent Benefield, 24, were wounded and arrested.Guzman was rushed to Mary Immaculate Hospital in critical condition following the shooting and was handcuffed to his bed while recuperated. He told the judge he suffered wounds to his chest, buttocks and calves, had a metal rod permanently placed in his left leg and continues to recover physically and mentally.Isnora, who was part of an undercover team investigating suspected drug and prostitution operations at the strip club, allegedly saw Bell's entourage get into a heated argument after their bachelor party and heard Guzman say he was going to get a gun. Guzman denied making that threat during the argument and reminded defense attorneys that police never found a gun.Last March, Isnora, who fired 11 shots, and Detective Michael Oliver, who fired 31 and reloaded, were indicted on manslaughter charges while Detective Marc Cooper, who fired four, was charged with reckless endangerment. The other two officers were not indicted.Prosecutors contend the detectives never identified themselves when they approached Bell's car, while the defense claims the three believed they were under attack. James Cullerton, Oliver's attorney, and Anthony Ricco, Isnora's attorney, both questioned Guzman's credibility by bringing up his criminal past.Guzman, who has spent time in prison for reckless endangerment and selling crack cocaine, lashed out at the attorneys for straying from the shooting.”I got to abide by the law, but I don't got to respect no one on that side,” he said, staring angrily at the three detectives in court.Guzman's testimony came a day after Benefield took the stand and gave his account of the incident to Cooperman, who is presiding at the non-jury trial. Benefield testified that he never saw his friends get into any argument outside the club that night.Benefield, who was sitting in the back seat of Bell's car when the shooting occurred, also said he never saw Isnora or the other officers identify themselves.”He had a gun point towards S,” Benefield said, his nickname for Bell.Benefield suffered painful gunshot wounds to his calves and thighs and was in pain as the officers handcuffed him on the street.The defense attacked Benefield's credibility, contending that he changed parts of his testimony to help support the case for a $50 million negligence lawsuit he, Guzman and Paultre-Bell filed against the NYPD. Although Benefield testified he smoked a marijuana cigarette and drank three Long Island Ice Teas that night, Cullerton read previous testimony to prosecutors where he said he had six alcoholic drinks that night.”What you heard in there was a mockery,” said Detectives Endowment Association President Michael Palladino outside court Monday. “He does one version as a victim and another as a businessman.”The defense was expected to begin its arguments this week.Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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