- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — Three detectives charged in a 50-shot barrage that killed an unarmed man on his wedding day were framed by street thugs, including two survivors seeking millions of dollars from the city, defense attorneys said yesterday.

Prosecutors built their case on the unreliable testimony of friends of the victim, “a parade of convicted felons, crack dealers and men who were not strangers to weapons,” James Culleton, a lawyer for one of the detectives, said in his closing argument.

Sean Bell, 23, was killed on Nov. 25, 2006, hours before he was to marry Nicole Paultre, the mother of his two children. The shooting occurred outside a bar where Mr. Bell had a bachelor party. Two friends with him in a car were wounded.

Gescard Isnora fired 11 shots; Michael Oliver fired 31 times; and Marc Cooper fired five times, each believing amid the chaos that he was under fire from the car, their lawyers said. Two other officers who fired were not charged.

Mr. Isnora and Mr. Oliver pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in what prosecutors have portrayed as a botched undercover operation by trigger-happy officers. Mr. Cooper pleaded not guilty to reckless endangerment.

Several friends of Mr. Bell who attended his party testified that police accounts of an argument outside the club, where police were investigating prostitution allegations, were exaggerated. Police say they overheard one of them, Joseph Guzman, say: “Yo, go get my gun.”

Defense attorney Paul Martin portrayed Mr. Guzman as “the catalyst of the event. He’s the reason we’re here today.”

In grand jury testimony, Mr. Isnora said he followed Mr. Bell, Mr. Guzman and Trent Benefield to their car because he thought they were going to get a gun.

Mr. Guzman denied saying anything about a gun. He and Mr. Benefield, who both were wounded, also testified that they never heard the officers yell warnings before opening fire and said they tried to drive away because they feared for their lives.

Mr. Isnora maintains he only resorted to deadly force after Mr. Bell bumped him with the car and smashed into an unmarked police van and after he saw Mr. Guzman make a sudden move as though he were going for a gun.

“He used enormous restraint,” a third defense attorney, Anthony Ricco, told the judge, who is hearing the case without a jury.

Mr. Guzman and Mr. Benefield have filed $50 million lawsuits against the city.

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