Sean Bell Shooting Trial Day 13: "You Don't Know Any 14-Foot Tall Individuals, Correct?"

I don’t have much time tonight, so this will be short, but today’s testimony was very odd. I feel like the prosecution is calling every single person who participated in the crime scene investigation in any way.

First on was Dr. Peter Pizzola, another CSU detective (and very educated; he has a PhD in Philosophy of Criminal Justice, which is why the Dr. preceding his name — he’s not an MD). Anyway, he was declared an expert in crime scene and ballistic reconstruction, but not accident reconstruction. So, still no expert testimony about who initially smashed into whom.

He didn’t want to speak with absolute certainty about anything but said that analyses of paint chips he ordered taken from the gray pedestrian gate of the building on Liverpool Street and the rear bumper of Bell’s Altima showed that Bell’s Altima could have come into contact with the gate. He also found clothing fibers compressed into the Altima’s front bumper. Comparative analysis of those fibers with material from Detective Isnora’s pants revealed that the car’s front bumper could have come into contact with Isnora. Since the fibers were compressed into the bumper, such contact was not casual — ie: it did not occur with Isnora simply standing next to the bumper; there had to be somewhat more forceful contact. Paint smears on the Altima’s front bumper could have come from the license plate of the police minivan. There was a tire smear on the side of the police minivan, but Pizzola could not say whether it was from the Altima.

Based upon his impact analysis, Pizzola said the collision happened as such: the police van and Altima impacted, the Altima backed into the sidewalk then into the gate on the building, then went forward again and again made contact with the minivan. The paint on the Altima from the minivan’s license plate was from the first, not second impact.

When Pizzola was first given the Altima for examination, it was already in the precinct’s garage. At that point part of the car’s bumper, foam from seats, and other large items were haphazardly packed into the car’s backseat. Saying he didn’t want to “second-guess anyone,” Pizzola admitted he thought the placement of such objects was not so swift. He noticed the car’s two rear tires were deflated and the front driver’s one flat; ballistics evidence was found inside of that front flat tire. Two bullet holes in the Altima’s hood were definitely made after the damage to the front of the car (so, the crash happened before the shooting). There was slight, typical factory tinting on the front windshield of the Altima, and there was perhaps a bit of tinting on the rear window, but the side windows were not tinted.

The shots fired into the rear of the Altima and into the Air Train station were produced by Detective Cooper’s gun. Cooper was shooting from the unmarked police Camry, parked down the street behind the Altima. The slope of the shot that fired into the Air Train was 11 degrees upward — a slope “slightly” above the target, also called “a grazing shot.”

Detective Edward Bingham (not sure if I’ve spelled his last name right) was the source of the aforementioned odd testimony. Another CSU detective, he examined the Dodge Stratus parked on Liverpool Street that sustained a bullet hole to its trunk; the bullet was found inside the trunk’s interior lining.

Bingham also documented the trajectory of the 24 bullet holes in the Altima through a 3D model called a “total station.” Using Pizzola’s trajectory rods, he made these 3D images, which were projected onto the courtroom screens. They showed a model car with long, long lines pointing toward it, each line representing one of the 24 rods marking the bullet holes. The minute he put up the 3D images, they looked odd and very out of proportion. The trajectory lines seemed ridiculously long, seemingly coming from either below the surface of the ground or way above, in the air. It turned out, as revealed on cross, that he hadn’t made a vertical scale, only a horizontal one. There hasn’t yet been any testimony about how far away each detective was from Bell’s car during the shooting, but Bingham admitted, according to one image, if the detective shot from 28 feet away, he would have had to be aiming from 14 feet in the air. “You don’t know any 14-foot tall people, correct,” defense counsel Ricco asked rhetorically. According to another image, if the detective had fired from 15 feet away, he would have had to be underground. Bingham admitted that when he made the “total station” he hadn’t taken into account the fact that the passenger side of the Altima was higher than the driver’s side when it was shot at (both because of the flat driver’s side tire and the dips in the street). He performed the test only in the precinct garage, rather than at the scene, making it difficult for him to get the proper dimensions since the garage was so small. On redirect, DA Testagrossa adduced from the detective that he hadn’t intended to show the placement of the shooters in the images. But there was a long side bar before the admission of the images, after Mr. Ricco objected to them on the grounds that the DA hadn’t given an “offer of proof” as to their relevance. After the lenghty side-bar, Ricco withdrew his objection, but I wondered what that relevance was after all…

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