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Judge to decide fate of detectives in Bell case

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State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman accepted a waiver of a jury trial filed by the attorneys representing Detectives Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper during a special hearing Friday. The attorneys said they asked for the bench trial because they believed the media coverage of the Nov. 25, 2006 shooting and its aftermath had clouded the judgment of Queens residents."The reason is simply we don't have a comfortable level with a jury trial in Queens. We feel the jury pool is poisoned," said Michael Paladino, the president of the Detectives' Endowment Association which is representing the officers, during a news conference following the hearing. The criminal bench trial is now set for Feb. 25.In March, Oliver and Isnora were indicted on manslaughter charges while Cooper was charged with reckless endangerment in the shooting of Bell outside the Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica. Bell, 23, who was at his bachelor party, and his friends Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31, were shot 50 times by Oliver, Isnora, Cooper and their partners Mike Carey and Paul Headley, who thought one of the young men had a gun, according to the criminal complaint.It was later determined that Bell and his friends were not armed, according to the criminal complaint. Bell, who lived in Rockaway, was killed hours before he was going to walk down the aisle with his high school sweetheart, Nicole Paultre-Bell, while Benefield and Guzman were wounded and arrested.Rev. Al Sharpton joined the Bell family in court Friday to hear the proceedings and was not happy with dropping of a jury trial. The civil activist who has been protesting with the Richmond Hill native's family since the shooting, thought the officers and their attorneys were showing disrespect to the southeast Queens community by taking the judgment out of their hands."I think the people of the city and the people of Queens should look at the fact that they are supposed to trust the police who don't trust us," he said outside the court.The bench trial decision came two days after the State Supreme Court's Appellate Division denied a motion filed by the detective's attorneys to change the venue of the criminal trial from Queens to Albany. The attorneys pleaded their case by citing a survey of 600 Queens residents that showed that 62.9 percent thought the shooting was unjustified due to the incident's media coverage.District Attorney Richard Brown successfully argued against the motion with his own set of statistics that showed 64.5 percent of Queens residents have not formed an opinion about the case based on media coverage."Now that their motion to change the venue has been denied, they do not want to face a jury of their peers whom they serve," Sharpton said.Palladino rejected Sharpton's claim, reminding reporters that the detectives put their lives on the line by going undercover in the club to investigate suspected drug and prostitution operations. In addition, he cited the toxicology reports that showed Bell was intoxicated when he rammed his sedan into the unmarked police car before the officers opened fire."We can't discount what led to the shooting," he 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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