Sections

Queens awaits verdict in Bell trial: Prosecution questions credibility of defense’s 52 witnesses during final day of closing arguments

Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

During his impassioned three-hour closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Charles Testagrossa blasted the attorneys representing Detectives Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper for trying to downplay the officers' roles in the firing of 50 bullets on Nov. 25, 2006. "The defense would have you to believe that the number of gunshots are irrelevant," he told Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman, who said he would issue a verdict in the non-jury trial on April 25. Speaking of Oliver, he said "31 shots at unarmed inhabitants in a vehicle speaks of rage."The three officers are accused of several charges, including manslaughter and reckless endangerment, in the fatal shooting of Bell, 23, and the wounding of his two friends outside a Jamaica strip club.Earlier in the day the defense team urged the judge to disregard the testimony from several of the prosecution's 52 witnesses, including the two men who survived the barrage, Trent Benefield, 24, and Joseph Guzman, 32. Anthony Ricco, the Harlem-based attorney who represented Isnora, placed blame for the entire incident on Guzman, who the officers thought had a gun."He was the catalyst for the events. He's the reason we're out here today," the attorney said, which drew moans from the audience inside the courtroom.Ricco also asked the judge to be lenient on Isnora, who he claimed grew up in a rough neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and joined the NYPD to take a stand against the gang violence he was accustomed to seeing. Testagrossa refuted those claims by contending that even people who grow up with noble intentions can commit serious criminal acts.The detectives sat silently as both sides made their final arguments. They did not take the stand in their own defense because prosecutors read to the judge their March 2007 testimony before a grand jury.On the other side of the court room, Bell's parents and fiancee Nicole Paultre-Bell, who were in courtroom for the trial's 28 days, were in tears as the incident was described over and over in the summations. In his grand jury testimony, Isnora claimed to have seen Bell, who was celebrating his bachelor party with a group of friends, get into an argument with a man near an SUV around 4 a.m. and allegedly heard Guzman shout, "Got to get my gat," which is slang for "gun." Isnora and his partners followed Bell, Guzman and Benefield to the bridegroom's Nissan Altima, which was parked on the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue. Bell rammed his car into the detective.The sedan then struck an undercover minivan which Oliver was driving. Isnora, Oliver, Cooper and partners Officer Michael Carey and Detective Paul Headley opened fire, killing Bell on his wedding day and seriously wounding Guzman and Benefield. No weapon was ever found.The shooting sparked numerous protest within southeast Queens by residents across the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters last week that the city is prepared for more demonstrations following the verdict next week.Last March, a grand jury indicted Isnora, who fired first and shot 11 times, and Oliver, who fired 31 shots and reloaded once, on charges of manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. Cooper, who fired four shots, including one that hit a nearby AirTrain station, according to police, was charged with reckless endangerment. Carey, who fired three times, and Headley who fired once, were not indicted.Testagrossa reiterated to the judge that Guzman, Benefield and other witnesses said under oath that they never had heard any of the officers shout police commands before the shooting began. The prosecutor also focused on the fact that Isnora claimed to have clipped his badge to the collar of his shirt, a location that Testagrossa claimed was inconspicuous to Bell's friends who were inside the car and those who were nearby."A shield that is not displayed properly is as good as a shield in your pocket," he said.The defense repeatedly tried to discredit Testagrossa's case by questioning the credibility of his witnesses. James Culleton, Oliver's attorney, said Benefield and Guzman either withheld information or changed their stories from previous statements to police and the grand jury to help them in their pending $50 million civil lawsuit against the city."Each and everyone of them came into the courtroom and told a different story with respect to the core issues of the case," he said of Bell's friends whom he called "street thugs."Culleton reread Oliver's grand jury testimony in which he claimed to have shouted "Police" several times before he fired.The prosecutor said in his closing argument that the recollections of the DA's witnesses were more realistic than the testimony by the six witnesses the defense put on the stand. Testagrossa contended that the recounting of the incident by Carey, the only one of the five officers to take the stand, and the grand jury testimony of the indicted detectives were tailored to justify the shooting."The defendants have implicated themselves so much that you could throw out all of the previous witnesses and they'll still be guilty," he said.During a news conference outside the court, Bell's mother, Valerie, told reporters that she was grateful to the Queens district attorney's office and was confident that justice would be served."I thank New York for their prayers. I know God will always be the glory," she said.Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

Reader feedback

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not TimesLedger.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to TimesLedger.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

@timesledgernews
Community News Group

Don’t miss out!

Stay in touch with the stories people are talking about in your neighborhood:

Optional: Help us tailor our newsletters to you!