Sean Bell Shooting Trial Day 26: "Whatever the Verdict is, We Pray For Peace"

Yesterday wrapped up the defense case. They’re supposed to rest when court resumes on Thursday, followed by closing arguments, and Justice Cooperman’s decision, likely next week. I can’t believe it’s almost over. I’ve struggled to wake up at 6:00 every weekday morning for the past seven weeks, but I’m honestly sad. I feel like I’m going to miss all the court officers, the friends I’ve made, watching the judge and defense attorneys and Bell family and supporters and overhearing Detectives Endowment Association members, and just the crazy goings-on in and around the courthouse.

Yesterday’s testimony was rather bland. Alexander Jason was re-called from Monday, for his cross-examination, during which nothing all that important (in my mind) was elicited. He didn’t perform his bullet-through-the-lampshade experiment with a screen in place — and a screen did cover Mrs. Rodrigues‘s window — but he said that would have had no difference on the speed of the bullet as it pierced the window and shade; shade still couldn’t have stopped the bullet if it was traveling at full force.

Also testifying was James Gannolo, another expert called by Detective Oliver. Gannolo, a retired NYPD detective, was declared by the court to be an expert in firearms identification and microscopic examination and comparison of ballistics evidence. He testified about five specific pieces of ballistics evidence: 1) a deformed bullet fired from Oliver’s gun found on the side of the street was damaged in a way that indicated it had ricocheted at an angle off another hard object; 2) a bullet fired from either Oliver’s or Carey’s weapon found all the way down the street from where the collision of the Altima and police van occurred had struck something hard and fragmented severely before ending up where it did. That bullet also had foam stuck to it — so it passed through something containing a foam filler; 3) another deformed bullet fired from Oliver’s gun found by the gated area Bell’s car struck when it reversed had struck a hard surface before landing where it did; 4) the bullet found in Mrs. Rodrigues’s lampshade, which was fired either from Oliver’s or Carey’s gun, was damaged in such a way that it had struck a hard surface at an angle before piercing her window and ending up in the shade; and 5) a bullet from either Oliver’s or Carey’s weapon found in a Mercury Villager parked on the street had also ricocheted off of a hard object at an angle before ending up where it did.

Unable to tell what all of those bullets may have deflected off of before landing where they did, Gannolo said with all of the ambulances driving down the street, emergency workers, and police officers running around, a lot of the small light-weight bullets and shell casings could have been scattered and moved away from their original landing position.

So, much of the defense case was devoted to the lesser reckless endangerment charges. If bullets were ricocheting this way and that before ending up in living rooms and cars and Air Train stations and other places where people might be, it negates that the officers misfired, and would seem to lessen their responsibility for where those bullets ultimately went.

The day ended with the defense admitting into evidence the entire taped interview officers who responded to Mary Immaculate Hospital shortly after the shooting conducted with Trent Benefield. They played the tape in court and also had prepared a typed transcript for the judge to follow along with the tape. Unfortunately, I could hear very little of the warbled talking on the tape and could hardly see the small type on the court monitor from where I was sitting. Next time I have to get a press pass so I can sit up front! — although I don’t know if they could see much better…

Anyway, I heard Benefield tell the officers he was definitely shot while in the car, which is why he got out and started running (although he also said at trial, he was shot in the car, but also shot while running, so I don’t know how contradictory that is). I heard him say Bell’s car hit the van, then reversed, then went forward and hit it again, whereas at trial he said there was only one collision. I also heard him say on the tape that he didn’t know Isnora was a police officer. Benefield didn’t see a shield and didn’t hear him identify himself and had no idea why he was shooting. He’d told the officers “you all shot us for nothing,” shortly thereafter because he quickly figured out what had happened once he was being cuffed and arrested, which all supports what he said at trial.

That’s all I could hear of the tape. There may well have been more of significance that I could not hear.

Last night, News Channel 2 broadcast a short interview between reporter Pablo Guzman and Sean Bell’s parents, Valerie and William Bell. In court everyday, they said it was difficult but necessary to relive everything. Mr. Bell broke down at one point and had to excuse himself, which Guzman said he didn’t expect. When asked whether they thought there would be violence or protests if the verdict was acquittal on all counts, Mrs. Bell said, “whatever the verdict is, we just pray for peace.”

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