Three detectives were found not guilty Friday on all charges in the shooting death of Sean Bell, who died in a hail of 50 police bullets outside a club in Jamaica, Queens, in November 2006. The verdict prompted calls for calm from the mayor, angry promises of protests by those speaking for the Bell family and expressions of relief by the detectives.
Detective Michael Oliver, who fired 31 bullets the night of the shooting and faced manslaughter charges, said Justice Arthur J. Cooperman had made a “fair and just decision.”
Justice Cooperman delivered the verdict in State Supreme Court at 9 a.m. Describing the evidence, he said it was reasonable for the detectives to fear that someone in the crowd that night carried a gun. He added that many of the prosecution’s witnesses, including Mr. Bell’s friends and the two wounded victims, were simply not believable. “At times, the testimony of those witnesses just didn’t make sense,” the judge said.
Several supporters of Mr. Bell stormed out of the courtroom, and a few small scuffles followed outside the courthouse. By midafternoon, there were no suggestions of any broader unrest around the city. Mr. Bell’s family and fiancée left without making any comments and drove to visit his grave at the Nassau Knolls Cemetery and Memorial Park in Port Washington.
The verdict comes 17 months to the day since the Nov. 25, 2006, shooting of Mr. Bell, 23, and his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, outside the Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens, hours before Mr. Bell was to be married.
It was delivered in a packed courtroom. Mr. Bell’s family sat silently as Justice Cooperman spoke from the bench. Behind them, a woman was heard to ask, “Did he just say, ‘Not guilty?’ ” Detective Oliver and the two other defendants, Detectives Gescard F. Isnora and Marc Cooper, were escorted out a side doorway as court adjourned.
The acquittals do not necessarily mean the officers’ legal battles are over. Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the three men could still face disciplinary action from the Police Department, but that he had been asked to wait on any internal measures until the United States attorney’s office determines whether or not it would pursue federal charges against them.
The seven-week trial, which ended on April 14, was heard by Justice Cooperman after the defendants waived their right to a jury, a strategy some lawyers called risky at the time. But it clearly paid off.
Via The State of is a column from the NY Daily News which highlights some mistakes the prosecutors made in this case.
Stephen Murphy, who won the only acquittal in the sensational Howard Beach trial in the very same Queens courtroom 21 years ago, is still scratching his head.
"I've thought all along that these cops were going to be acquitted because the prosecution made major blunders in the case," he said.
"To start with, the prosecution should never have read the grand jury testimony of the three cops into the record because it basically precluded the defendants from taking the stand."
Murphy says once the cops' versions of the shooting were on the record in the trial, there was no way the defense was going to expose them to cross-examination.
"If the prosecution hadn't done that, the defense would have seriously had to consider making their clients take the stand," Murphy said.
For your info, here's a Wikipedia article on the late Sean Bell. If these two articles didn't educate you on what happened that will.