Benefield testifies Sean Bell didn’t get into fight before shooting

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Benefield, 24, took the stand Monday in the criminal trial of the three undercover officers who fired the most shots at him, Joseph Guzman, 32, and Bell hours before he was set to get married.

Contrary to prior testimony from one of Bell's friends who attended his bachelor party at the Kalua Cabaret in Jamaica, Benefield said his friends never got into an argument with a man outside the club around 4 a.m.

"He said he was from Far Rock and Joe [Guzman] said, 'I'm from Far Rock too,' " he recalled.

Last week, Bell's friend Jean Nelson, told the court that the man outside, Fabio Coicou, threatened to shoot Bell and the bridegroom said he was going to "take the gun off him."

Five undercover officers fired at Bell in his car a block away, at the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue, after one of the undercover detectives, Gescard Isnora, saw the alleged argument and thought Bell was going to get a gun. No weapon was ever found. Bell was killed while Guzman and Benefield were injured and arrested.

Last March, Detectives Isnora, who opened fire first and shot 11 times, and Michael Oliver, who fired 31 times and reloaded, were indicted on manslaughter charges while Marc Cooper, who fired four, was charged with reckless endangerment. The two other officers involved were not charged.

Prosecutors said the detectives failed to properly identify themselves when they approached Bell's sedan and Benefield told the court that was the case that night. He testified that when Isnora approached the car, he saw no badge displayed and did not hear him say anything when he approached Bell, who was nicknamed "S" by his friends.

"He had a gun pointing at S," Benefield told Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman, who will be rendering the verdict in the non-jury trial.

Defense lawyers challenged Benefield's credibility by bringing back taped statements he gave to detectives at Mary Immaculate Hospital less than two hours after the shooting. Although he told the judge he had three Long Island Iced Teas at the strip club and smoked a marijuana cigarette outside, Benefield told the detectives at the hospital that he had six drinks.

Benefield reiterated that he only had three drinks that night and said his previous statements were incorrect.

See the April 3 editions of the TimesLedger Newspapers for the full story.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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