Yesterday was relatively mild compared to the day before. The court heard only from two witnesses: the surgeon who performed Sean Bell’s autopsy, Dr. Michael Greenberg, and another of the eyewitnesses to the shooting, Jean Nelson, a seemingly honest man whose testimony was similar to that of Mr. Henkerson, who testified the day before, but with added details.
Sean Bell sustained four wounds, one to the right side of his neck, one to his right shoulder, one to his right torso, and one to his right arm. When Dr. Greenberg began going over the path of each bullet and which organs they penetrated, Mr. and Mrs. Bell and other members of the family left the courtroom, Sean’s mother in tears. The two bullets that caused Sean’s death were the first and third listed above, the one that went into his neck, piercing his larnyx and lodging in his upper arm bone, and the one that went into Sean’s torso, fracturing his rib, abdomen, liver, lung, and lodging in his spine. These numbered bullets, by the way, were randomnly assigned by the doctor; it can’t be determined which struck Sean first. Sean sustained five additional abrasions, but the cause of death was the two gunshot wounds to his neck and torso.
Greenberg also testified that he didn’t see any gunshot residue on any of Mr. Bell’s clothing, which means that the gun’s muzzle must have been fired from over three feet away. An “intervening obstacle,” such as a window, would have prevented any such residue from forming on his clothing (although, as the defense attorneys pointed out on cross, if the passenger-side window was blown out, it wouldn’t have stopped the residue from congealing on the clothes). Mr. Bell’s blood alcohol level was 0.16 grams per deciliter, twice the legal limit. There was no presence of illegal substances in his blood.
Jean Nelson, 28 and married with three children, impressed as sincere and direct; he was there to tell it like it is. He had one prior felony conviction, from 1999, for possessing a firearm, which he had for protection. He also had three misdemeanor convictions, all for marijuana possession. Speaking of which, he was the owner of the bags of marijuana found down the street from the scene.
Mr. Nelson, who wore his hair in an impressively intricate pattern of cornrows (just something I noticed because, seriously, the design was like artwork), had known Sean for 5 or 6 years, meeting him through Mr. Henkerson, whom he’d known all his life. He was a member of the musical group the defense is so interested in, which he and the others had formed to make some money.
He’d gone to a club in Manhattan, “Eugene’s” (where he bought the marijuana), earlier in the night on the 24th, returning to Queens around 3:00 a.m., and meeting up with Henkerson, to go onto Sean’s party. He and Henkerson arrived at Kalua at 3:30, too late to go inside, as the bouncer told them the club was about to close. So the two waited outside for their friends. Soon Coicou pulled up in his SUV and a bit later, the club let out. When Sean left, he and Nelson walked toward the edge of the club where Sean urinated before realizing he’d left something in the club and returned to retrieve it.
When Sean emerged from the club, Nelson heard Coicou say to him, “You can’t do this like that. I got money in there.” Sean asked him what he meant. Soon, Nelson saw Coicou back up with his hands in his vest saying “I’ll shoot you.” James Kollore said, “We’ll take that gun from you.” Sean echoed Kollore, saying, “Yeah, we’ll take that gun from you.”
Nelson walked up to Sean, saying, “come on, you’re getting married tomorrow. You don’t need none of this crap. Let’s go.”
Nelson remembered seeing Detectives Isnora and Sanchez in front of the club, but he paid no attention to them.
Nelson, Sean, and the rest of the group walked down the street to their cars, on Liverpool. On their way, Coicou in his SUV passed them very slowly, stopping at the corner to eye them all. As soon as he passed, he sped up down the street and turned at the next corner. Guzman and Sean proceeded to Sean’s Altima and got inside.
Nelson remembered Lt. Napoli‘s Toyota Camry pass by them and stop mid-block, a little after Sean’s car. Nelson noticed two white men in that car, who looked at him, and he concluded they were police. He remembered the minivan driving onto the street too, and concluded that carried police as well.
He then saw Isnora (whom he’d remembered from the front of the club) walk up to Sean’s Altima, holding a gun in his right hand, pointing it downward. “Yo, let me holla at you,” Isnora said to Sean and Guzman, which, to Nelson, meant, “Let me talk to you.” Though Nelson realized the men in the Camry and the minivan were police, he didn’t assume Isnora was as well.
Sean tried to pull out, nearly running over Isnora. Isnora hopped onto the hood to prevent being “squashed,” and went over the car, landing on the other side. Sean crashed into the minivan, then backed up, running into a wall behind him, before coming forward again, hitting the van. It looked like the Altima was just coasting at that point, and bumped into the van. Nelson then heard shooting. He began running South, dropping his marijuana (which he said was only for personal use) on the way. He looked back once before coming to the corner, and when he did he saw another man, a white man, near the passenger-side door of the Altima pointing a gun at that passenger door.
Nelson continued running, hearing someone behind him say, “oh shit.” He heard bullets piercing the fence of the house he ran past. A couple blocks away, he ran into Kollore and Henkerson, and they returned to the scene, now seeing Benefield on the ground, on his stomach, handcuffed.
On cross, Nelson remembered telling prosecutors during an interview on December 2, 2007, that he thought Sean was drunk, and when he’s drunk he’s “hyper.” He also told them Sean doesn’t like people talking to him “in a smart way.”
Defense counsel Anthony Ricco (Isnora’s attorney) asked Nelson on cross whether it made it a bit “tough” to go back to his neighborhood since his perceptions were “a little different” from his friends’. He said “yes.” After he finished cross examination, Ricco said, “thank you very much and good luck to you.” I’m glad he wasn’t hard on Nelson; there was no reason to be, since he seemed so truthful. So now, after getting so upset with him the day before, I like Ricco again.