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Sean Bell crime scene scrutinized by defense

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During his testimony before Queens Supreme Court Justice Robert Hanophy Monday, retired crime scene investigator David Rivera admitted that he was not careful when he examined the area around the Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica after 50 bullets were fired on Nov. 25, 2006.He testified that although he found a bag of marijuana and a pair of gloves belonging to Bell's friend, Trent Benefield, near the scene of the shooting, it could not be properly examined as it lay in a small pool of anti-freeze unnoticed for hours."[It] is almost impossible to lift prints off a wet item," Rivera testified, according to the New York Post.The revelation could help the claim by lawyers for Detectives Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper that the officers fired at Bell, 23, Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 32, because they believed one of them had a gun and was going to use it against a man whom they argued with.As Isnora approached Bell for questioning around 4 a.m. that morning, the Rockaway resident rammed his Nissan Altima into an unmarked police van on the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue, which prompted the detectives and their two partners, who were not charged, to open fire, according to the criminal complaint against the officers.Bell, who was going to get married hours later, was killed while Benefield and Guzman were wounded and arrested. Police found that none of the three were carrying a weapon.Oliver, who fired 31 shots and reloaded, and Isnora, who fired 11 shots, were indicted on manslaughter charges while Cooper, who fired four, faces reckless endangerment charges.Prosecutors contend that the detectives were careless and did not properly identify themselves when they approached Bell.Rivera backed up that claim during his first day of testimony Friday. While he was questioned by Assistant District Attorney Peter Resse, Rivera contradicted earlier testimony from Lt. Gary Nappoli, the commanding officer of the detectives' undercover club initiative. Although the lieutenant, who was inside another undercover car near the scene, said he was reaching for a portable police bubble light before shots were fired, Rivera said he found no such device in the vehicle when he examined it.Rivera was not the only crime scene investigator to take the stand. On March 5, Detective Ellen Friedman recalled to the judge about how she was called to the scene during her day off. Friedman, a 23-year veteran of the NYPD's Drug Enforcement Task Force, was asked by police to examine Bell's car for any hidden contraband.She testified that the only thing she found during her two-hour examination was two spent bullets that were fired from the detective's weapons."One round was under the front driver's seat. The second was in between the front driver's cushion and the center console," Friedman testified.While being cross-examined by Oliver's defense attorney, James Cullerton, Friedman admitted that she, too, was not careful when examining the car, as the only protective gear she used during the search was a pair of rubber gloves."No, I did not take any precautions as to prevent any contamination of the vehicle," she said.Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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