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Closing arguments in Sean Bell trial

The Queens man was slain by police. A judge is expected to give the verdict for 3 officers next week.

April 15, 2008|Louise Roug | Times Staff Writer

QUEENS, N.Y — . -- The three police officers on trial for killing a 23-year-old man on his wedding day behaved appropriately, a defense lawyer said in closing arguments Monday, casting blame for the incident on one of the young man's friends.

But prosecutors asked the judge to consider the officers' actions more closely.

"Before we pin medals on the defendants for their heroism, let's look at what they did," said prosecutor Charles Testagrossa. "Two full magazines poured into a motionless vehicle of unarmed passengers speaks of rage."

Police fired 50 shots at Sean Bell, killing him and wounding two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, outside a strip club in Queens in November 2006.

Defense attorneys argued that officers Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper believed they were being shot at when they fired. One lawyer suggested that the real culprit was Guzman, describing him as "the catalyst of the event."

"He is the reason we are here today," said Cooper's attorney, Paul Martin.

That remark sent a current through the tense, packed courtroom, prompting several among Bell's family and friends to walk out.

Isnora and Oliver have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. Cooper has pleaded not guilty to reckless endangerment.

Guzman and Benefield have filed a $50-million lawsuit against the city.

Anthony Ricco described his client, Isnora, as a "hero" and a "decent, dignified, graceful young man [who] did his job as best he could."

During the six-week trial, more than 50 people have testified, and spectators have routinely packed the Queens courtroom. On Monday, dozens of people were turned away from the heavily guarded courthouse for lack of space.

Last week, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg met with civic leaders in Queens to talk about potential fallout from the verdict. City leaders are concerned that an acquittal could prompt violent protests. In 2000, the acquittal of four white police officers in the shooting death of unarmed Amadou Diallo led to protests and arrests.

On Nov. 25, 2006, Bell and his friends had gone to the Kalua nightclub in Queens to celebrate his bachelor party. As the club was closing around 4 a.m., Bell got into an argument with a man outside. According to some witnesses, Guzman talked of getting a gun.

Isnora, who had been staking out the club with other undercover officers, approached Bell's car. Prosecutors have suggested that Bell and his friends felt threatened and did not realize the undercover officers were police.

But Isnora and at least one other officer said they clearly called out to identify themselves as officers.

When Isnora began walking toward the car, Guzman drove into the detective's legs, knocking him down. The officers unleashed a barrage of bullets, killing Bell and injuring Guzman and Benefield.

Judge Arthur J. Cooperman, is expected to give his verdict next week.

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louise.roug@latimes.com

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