Day off in Bell case

Detectives fatally shot Bell in 2006
February 27, 2008 8:24:58 AM PST
Today is a scheduled day off in the Sean Bell case. Yeserday, A dancer at the Queens strip club where Sean Bell partied before he was killed has testified that - contrary to police assertions - everything seemed normal there that night.

Marsielles Payne, who is now a medical assistant, gave the first eyewitness account Tuesday at the trial of three NYPD detectives involved in Bell's 50-shot killing.

Payne countered police claims that disputes, potentially involving guns, had been brewing at the club on November 25, 2006. She said the club was busy, but nothing seemed amiss: "Everybody was having fun."

The defense says the detectives had ample reason to believe Bell and his friends were armed and dangerous. Detectives Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver face manslaughter charges; Marc Cooper is charged with reckless endangerment.

Earlier in the day, William Bell identified Marc Cooper, who is charged with reckless endangerment in the shooting of his son, Sean, early on the morning of Nov. 25, 2006. Detectives Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver face manslaughter charges.

Oliver fired 31 shots - including the one that killed the unarmed Bell - outside a Queens strip club where Sean Bell, his father and friends were celebrating Bell's impending wedding. Isnora fired 11 shots and Cooper fired four times. Two other officers also fired shots, but have not been charged.

William Bell, speaking calmly, said he was reluctant to attend the last-minute party. But Sean "kept calling. He insisted. So I finally decided to go."

William Bell said he arrived at the club around 12:30 a.m. Conversation was difficult because of the loud music and "party atmosphere," and he left around 3 a.m. He learned about two hours later that Sean had been hurt.

Bell said he thinks about his son every day.

A party organizer, Harold James, later described how Sean Bell was the first to order a round of drinks, Long Island iced teas, for the party. They sat at a table in the back of the club.

Authorities have said Sean Bell was intoxicated at the time he was killed.

The trial opened Monday in a packed courtroom. The case is being heard by a judge and not a jury.

As the trial got under way, Assistant District Attorney Charles Testagrossa told Judge Arthur Cooperman that once the evidence is heard, "It will be clear that what happened cannot be explained away as a mere accident or mistake. It can only be characterized as criminal."

But defense lawyers say the detectives had ample reason to believe Sean Bell and his friends were armed and dangerous.

Isnora's attorney, Anthony Ricco, said there was evidence that Bell was drunk and "out of control" as he left the club. He said Bell tried to run over Isnora with his car.

"When there is a confluence of alcohol and ignorance, there's always a tragedy," Ricco said.

The woman Bell was to marry, Nicole Paultre-Bell, wept as she testified Monday about being summoned that night to the hospital where she learned Bell was dead.