Yesterday was a short day. The only testimony came from yet another Crime Scene Unit detective, Charles Reiss, who took 63 photos of Sean Bell’s Altima at the NYPD garage after it had been towed there for evidence preservation, and photos of two gates in front of a building on Liverpool Street that appeared to have been impacted by the Altima. Because this set of Altima photos was taken once it had been removed from the scene, we could see its entire front including the point of impact with the unmarked police minivan. The whole front bumper was off and the right front passenger-side wheel was turned awkwardly in, “dramatically” so, Reiss said. The front driver’s side tire was flat. The passenger windows were missing. In examining the glass recovered from those windows, Reiss said they didn’t seem to be tinted, which one can determine by the way the glass breaks.
There was some, but not as much, damage to the car’s rear: the point where the trunk meets the body of the car was askew, the trunk was ajar, there was a bullet hole in the trunk lid, the back bumper was damaged, and the rear deck inside the car was covered with glass.
Reiss took several hair and fiber samples and serological (body fluid) swabs from inside the car and sent them to the lab, and he, too, documented the car’s ballistic damage. He went through all the bullet holes and bullets recovered in the car, most of which went through the passenger side of the car. Reiss tried but was unable to collect any latent fingerprints from inside or on the car.
In examining the scene, Reiss saw glass splattered on the ground in front of two gates covering pedestrian and vehicular entrances to a building on Liverpool Street located diagonally behind the Altima, as well as a damaged lock to the pedestrian gate, chipped painting on the adjacent vehicular red gate, and chipped red paint on the Altima’s rear bumper. He concluded from all of this evidence that the Altima may have crashed into the gates. He therefore obtained paint samples from the rear of the Altima and both gates and sent them to the lab for analysis. When asked whether there was any doubt in his mind that the Altima had been involved in multiple collisions that morning, sustaining damage to front and back, Reiss said “no.”
Reiss’s testimony about the two collisions is important because it contradicts earlier eyewitness testimony by exotic dancer Marseilles Payne. Ms. Payne had said she saw the unmarked police minivan crash once into the Altima, followed immediately by shooting. She said the Altima never backed up into the building and came forward again crashing into the minivan, which is the defense contention.
And that concludes weeks three of the trial.
It’s kind of weird how the trial is a big deal on one hand, and on another, it’s not. There’s a fairly large media presence, though some days more than others. N.J. Burkett from News Channel 7 was back from Albany yesterday; he breezed in halfway through the testimony. There’s a total of four sketch artists — all of whom seem quite taken with Detective Oliver; from where I’m sitting I can usually see the progressing drawings of two to three of them and one day all three had nothing on their canvasses but his profile. He is rather charismatic and is located the closest to them, but still, I wanted to laugh when I saw three paintings of exactly the same thing. Earlier in the week when the judge briefly recessed the case to hear another item on his docket and the defendants had to leave the front area, one sketch artist actually followed Oliver around the room. He looked up at her and smiled kind of self-consiously. He looks at ease with all the attention — not like he is eating it up but not uncomfortable either. Detective Isnora on the other hand usually sits slightly hunched over and head slightly down. And Detective Cooper, charged with the least serious of the offenses, kind of sits off to the side, on the fringe. Still, I wanted to stand up and applaud when one of the artists actually began a drawing of Detective Cooper yesterday.
As for the families: the Bell family is always present, especially Sean’s mother, father, and Nicole, his fiance. There’s a large man who always sits next to the father, who I suspect is Sean’s brother. And Nicole’s row of friends are always there for support. Her lawyer is often present, and Sharpton shows up about once a week and for brief periods of time. On the defense side, the second and third rows are equally packed with police officers. I don’t know the detectives’ families, but I suspect some are there. There was a cherubic-faced but worried-looking woman who looked just like Detective Isnora but white-Hispanic, not black, talking to him the other day during brief recess.
And as for the spectators: the courtroom is often fairly full by late morning but the regulars are becoming fewer and fewer. We all sit in the same seats and are kind of getting to know each other, if mainly by sight. There’s an older man with a limp and a thicket of white curly hair who sits diagonally behind me and I honestly worried about him after not seeing him for two days in a row. Thursday I met a woman who always sits near me. She told me she’s a police officer and her son’s currently studying at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “That could have been my son,” she said referring to Bell. “I know police procedure. I’m here because we need answers.”
I’ve been asked a few times why I’m there. I think I am just about the only white regular who’s not official press and not associated with the police so it is probably curious. The guards outside keep trying to send me to jury duty. They have police barricades set up outside the courthouse separating the main entrance from a side entrance which leads to a narrow hallway, thronged by police guards, reporters, and a large TV camera, then on to the main courtroom. Every morning I start to walk up the courthouse steps around the barricade and toward the side door but am stopped and directed around the other way, behind the jurors. I simply say “Sean Bell” and they say, “oh,” and let me continue on my way. Thursday when I was walking along to the proper door and heard a guard call out “miss, miss,” then another say, “naw, she’s here for Sean Bell,” I considered it a minor victory.