Bell verdict slated for Friday: 24-hour vigil to be held night before judge issues decision in shooting

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Family, friends and supporters of Sean Bell are planning one last plea for justice in the streets of southeast Queens hours before a Queens Criminal Court Judge delivers his verdict Friday in the criminal trial of the three detectives charged with killing the Rockaway resident in a 50-shot barrage.

The Community Church of Christ, where Bell was supposed to be married on Nov. 25, 2006, plans to hold a 24-hour vigil Thursday morning outside its building on 167-04 108th Ave. that will culminate with a 3.4-mile march to Queens Criminal Courthouse.

Family members, such as Bell's fiance, Nicole Paultre-Bell, as well as Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, two friends who survived the shooting, were expected to attend part of the service.

"We support the vigil and any vigil in support of the Bell family," said Sanford Rubenstein, the lawyer who represents Paultre-Bell, Benefield and Guzman.

Administrators of Community Church of Christ said they plan for their vigil to be a silent reflection of prayer for the family and community.

"No matter what the verdict is, we have to live together. We will be praying for a healing," said the church's leader, Bishop Lester Williams.

During a news conference in Harlem Monday, Bell's father, William Bell, said he would hold a vigil outside the 103rd Precinct this week and thanked fellow protesters for their support. He told reporters that he hopes the judge provides justice for his son.

Following a day of closing arguments that capped off 28 days of testimony, Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman, who is deciding the non-jury trial, announced on April 14 that he would issue his decision Friday in the criminal case of Detectives Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper.

The trial lasted more than seven weeks and introduced a who's who of witnesses from the prosecution and defense, including Guzman and Benefield and Officer Michael Carey, who along with Detective Paul Headley, was not charged for their roles in the incident.

Bell's parents and fiance sat through every day of the trial, at times holding back their tears as the event was recounted over and over by different witnesses.

Isnora, who did not take the stand in the trial, told a Queens grand jury that around 4 a.m. he heard Guzman say he was going to get a gun during an argument outside the Kalua Cabaret, where Bell's friends were celebrating his bachelor party.

When the detective and his partners approached the entourage at Bell's sedan at the corner of Liverpool Street and 94th Avenue, the bridegroom rammed his car into an unmarked police minivan, prompting the officers to open fire.

No weapon was ever found.

Last March, Isnora, who fired first and shot 11 times, and Oliver, who fired 31 times and reloaded, were indicted on charges of manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. They could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Cooper, who fired four times, was indicted on reckless endangerment and faces up to a year in prison if convicted.

Defense attorneys contend that the detectives were justified in opening fire as the three recall shouting police commands before Bell rammed his car. Prosecutors argued that was not the case and they were backed up by several witnesses who claimed they never heard them shout "police" or flash a badge.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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