Officers in Bell case get non-jury trial

January 25, 2008 4:46:36 PM PST
The three NYC detectives indicted in the shooting death of Sean Bell waived their right to a jury trial, as expected, Friday afternoon. The case will be heard by the trial judge, Hon Arthur Cooperman.Cooperman set a trial date for Monday, February 25th.

Officers Michael Oliver, Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper appeared in the courtroom, as required by law, and signed waivers after affirming under oath that they had made their decision voluntarily and freely.

The two surviving victims were among the spectators today, along with Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre-Bell and the Reverend Al Sharpton, who has denounced the decision.

It has been a year and two months since Sean Bell was shot and killed in a barrage of police bullets.

On November 25, 2006, just hours before he was to be married, the 23-year old was shot along with two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, outside a Queens strip club.

The three detectives were indicted, and just Wednesday an appeals court shot down the defense's attempt to move the trial out of Queens.

Oliver and Isnora have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, while Cooper has pleaded not guilty to reckless endangerment.

The detectives told prosecutors in a letter Thursday that they wanted the case to be weighed by a judge. Such proceedings are known as bench trials.

"We just do not have a comfort level that we can guarantee a fair jury trial in Queens," said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, the union representing the officers.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown noted that choosing a bench trial was the defendants' right, and said they would receive a fair trial either way.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has served as an advocate for Bell's family, blasted the detectives' decision. "Now that their motion to change the venue has been denied, they do not want to face a jury of their peers whom they serve and by whom they are paid," the civil rights activist.