NEW YORK (NNPA) - Many spectators at the trial in State Supreme Court in Queens of three officers charged in the killing of Sean Bell and the wounding of two others were concerned that the police witnesses for the prosecution may be backfiring.
Listening to the testimony of Detective Hispolito Sanchez March 3-4 may have done little to remove that uncertainty. Sanchez, who was working undercover at the Club Kalua on Nov. 25, 2006, when Bell was killed in a barrage of 50 shots, seemed to offer conflicting accounts, depending on who was asking the questions.
He told attorney James Cullenton, Detective Mike Oliver's counsel, that there was no interruption in the gunfire, which supports the defense's case. Oliver is facing first and second degree manslaughter charges.
In the garbled 9-1-1 recording, Sanchez expressed a confused state, not knowing exactly where he was as he huddled in a doorway describing what was happening to a 911 operator. "I'm on 143rd Street and two perps have been shot," he told the operator. He was in fact on 94th Avenue, around the corner from the shooting on Liverpool Street.
Sanchez also seemed to waver on what he actually remembered about hearing police commands before the gunshots occurred. He told the prosecutor that he had not heard any commands of "Police" or "Show your hands," which is different from his testimony before the grand jury, where he said he had heard commands.
"All of his testimony," said attorney Sanford Rubenstein, who, along with attorney Michael Hardy, is representing Bell's fiancée, Nicole Paultre-Bell, "is calling into question his credibility before the judge [Justice Arthur Cooperman]. But this trial is really just getting started, and we can expect some 50 witnesses before it's over."
Sanchez's credibility about what he heard is of some concern for the prosecution. He testified that he was close enough to Joseph Guzman, one of Bell's friends who, along with Trent Benefield, was wounded, to hear him say, "Go get my gun."
Said Hardy, "I think Mr. Guzman would disagree with that statement."
When asked by Assistant District Attorney Charles Testagrossa how long the gunfire lasted, Sanchez said about "two minutes." But when cross-examined by Anthony Ricco, the lawyer for Detective Gescard Isnora, who faces first- and second-degree manslaughter charges, the officer said the gunfire only lasted about four to six seconds without any pause. (Marc Cooper, the other officer on trial, is charged with reckless endangerment, which is a misdemeanor.)
This contradiction was later cleared up when Sanchez explained that he thought the question pertained to the total time of the incident, including the start of the shots and his 911 call, which was played in the courtroom
Another witness for the prosecution on Tuesday was Lt. Michael Wheeler. He was a member of the second unit to arrive at the crime scene. There was a murmur in the courtroom when he testified that when he spoke to Oliver, who fired 31 of the 50 shots, the officer told him that he didn't remember firing any shots at all.
The court also heard testimony from Detective Gary Napoli, the commanding officer of the undercover detail at the club. He said he was too busy ducking and crawling on his belly to hear if the officers had issued a command.
At presstime, more EMS workers were expected to testify. In earlier testimony from EMS workers who arrived at the crime scene they said the undercover officers were wearing their badges, but they arrived after the shooting and could not identify the officers.
According to Ken Cohen, regional director of the NAACP and president of the Northeast Queens Branch, a prayer session was planned outside the courthouse that was to include the Rev. Herb Daughtry, who attended the trial.