Posted April 25, 2008 - The gamble by three New York City detectives -- to have a lone judge decide their fate for shooting to death an unarmed young Black man -- paid off Friday, as Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman found them not guilty of all charges.
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The decision angered activists and family members of Sean Bell – the 23-year-old man whom the detectives blasted in a blizzard of bullets on the eve of his wedding day – who had anticipated that Cooperman would follow the usual course of action in high-profile cases involving police shootings of unarmed Black victims.
Prior to Friday’s verdict, which Cooperman served up as Bell’s fiancée and hundreds of people gathered outside of the Queens courthouse, several of the city’s leading voices called for federal intervention should the three men be acquitted of the eight counts, five felonies and three misdemeanors.
Detectives Michael Cooper, who fired most of the 50 bullets that killed Bell and wounded his two friends, and Gescard Isnora, who launched 11 rounds, were facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted for manslaughter. Detective Marc Cooper was looking at a possible year term if convicted of reckless endangerment for his role in the Nov. 26, 2006 shooting outside of Club Kalua, a Queens strip club. Two other officers who shot at Bell and his friends, Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31, were not charged.
But Cooperman suggested that the prosecution had put on a shaky case and that its witnesses simply were not credible, saying, that the “the police response with respect to each defendant was not found to be criminal… .The people have not proved [their case] beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who prior to the verdict had said he expected civility no matter what the decision, said, “There are no winners in a trial like this. An innocent man lost his life, a bride lost her groom, two daughters lost their father, and a mother and a father lost their son.
“Judge Cooperman’s responsibility, however, was to decide the case based on the evidence presented in the courtroom. America is a nation of laws, and though not everyone will agree with the verdicts and opinions issued by the courts, we accept their authority. There will be opportunities for peaceful dissent and potentially for further legal recourse — those are the rights we enjoy in a democratic nation. We don’t expect violence or law-breaking, nor is there any place for it.”
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