Sean Bell Shooting Trial Day 20: Revisiting the 14-Foot Tall Shooter

Friday was another short day. There was only one witness, another CSU detective, Michael Cunningham, whose testimony really only pertained to the reckless endangerment counts against Detective Cooper for the bullet that went into the Air Train station, and Detective Oliver for the bullet that went into the house on Liverpool Street.

Cunningham returned to the scene in June 2007, over six months after the shooting, to try to re-do all of the measurements and create a new map of the trajectories of the bullets that pierced the Air Train station, Mrs. Rodrigues‘s living room window, and Mr. Hernandez‘s fence. Cunningham had to do this because, after examining measurements done by prior CSU detectives, he realized there was no way some of the previously projected trajectories could be correct. For example, according to Detective Anzalone‘s measurements and trajectory tracings of the bullet that pierced the Air Train station, the shooter would have had to been standing several blocks further South from where the shooting actually happened (unless he was the 14-foot-tall shooter from previous cross examination testimony).

The problem is, by the time Cunningham returned to the scene to re-do the measurements, things were very different: the Air Train station’s windows had been fixed (so, obviously, the original bullet holes were gone), and Liverpool Street had been re-paved, making the curbside, street levels, and other measurements different from what they had been at the time of the shooting.

Nevertheless, Cunningham tried, using photographs of the scene and video stills from Anthony South‘s footage. He took more measurements and, using Crime Scene Unit computer software, drew some 3-D diagrams of the whole scene which were shown in court.

Cunningham found another bullet impact mark in the Air Train station, and traced its path to a point on Liverpool Street, this one on the block of the shooting. But this new placing is in a location nowhere near the point where Cooper said he shot from (and we know it’s his bullet which pierced that Air Train window). Not that Cooper couldn’t have exaggerated his position, been wrong about it, or even have outright lied, but the new placing doesn’t make much sense; according to the 3-D diagram, it was out in the middle of the street, not near any car, or any place where Cooper would have had cover. Cooper said he had crouched down inside the Camry, opened its door, stepped out with one foot, and, peeking around the car door using it for cover, fired at Bell’s Altima’s back window. But according to Cunningham’s new measurements, as shown on the 3-D diagram, Cooper would have been standing up, out in the middle of the street, shooting. Shell casings were found both in the Camry and in the street.

The diagram also showed the path of Oliver’s bullet that pierced Mrs. Rodrigues’s window. According to that diagram, its trajectory was a straight line to a point smack in the middle of the block, where no one was supposedly standing, far away from where Bell’s Altima was. I’d thought — and I thought that CSU detectives had surmised as well — that that bullet missed the Altima and went into her house instead, but according to this diagram, her house was nowhere even close to Bell’s Altima. Cunningham had no explanation for this. When asked on cross examination whether that bullet could have ricocheted from another point, after hitting some kind of hard surface, then changed direction and gone into her window, he said it was possible. Either that’s what must have happened — the bullet ricocheted, someone was shooting at Benefield as he ran down the street (which none of the eyewitnesses have testified happened, but we haven’t heard from Benefield yet), or else the diagram simply isn’t accurate.

In any event, the CSU evidence all seems to have created more confusion than answers. And people are angry at what seems, at best, to have been careless investigatory work all the way around. Advocacy groups, like 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, are asking whether the NYPD may have even intentionally botched this investigation. Retired NYPD Detective Graham Weatherspoon, head of that group, said that Cunningham is known as a very good investigator, but was called in way too late. So, why wasn’t he called in to examine the original crime scene?


  1. Because the evidence would damn the cops and the best way to beat the rap is fog the evidence.

    So who investigates an alleged police crime? Why the police do.

    Hey, if that’s not a conflict of interest, it is an apparent one.

    Bad policing by ill trained bigoted police who consider blacks guilty until proven innocent and all of them are out to kill cops if they can.

    This has to stop, because it is becoming a self fulfilling prophesy.

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