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Criminal charges pending in Sean Bell trial

Shirley Hawkins | 4/16/2008, 5 p.m.

Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman refused Thursday to drop the charges against three detectives accused of killing Sean Bell in a 50-bullet barrage on his wedding day.
Bell, a 25-year-old father of two, was killed on Nov. 25, 2006, near the Kalua Cabaret strip club in Jamaica, Queens, where hed just left his bachelors party. Bell was scheduled to be married the next day. Plainclothes cops, who were standing outside of the club as part of a prostitution sting, thought Bell and his friends had a gun.
During the barrage, Bells friend, Trent Benefield, was badly wounded.
The issue of whether Detectives Gescard Isnora, Marc Cooper and Michael Oliver let the victims know they were cops before they opened fire is key to the case.
Defense lawyers said the detectives fired in self-defense because they believed Guzman was reaching for a gun when Isnora stepped in front of Bells car and declared, Police, show your hands!
No gun was found and none of the detectives took the stand, though their accounts of the incident were read at trial.
In their bid to dismiss the charges, defense lawyers attacked the eight counts against the detectives starting with the two most serious charges against Isnora and Oliverfirst degree manslaughter for killing Bell and seriously injuring Guzman, and second-degree manslaughter for killing Bell.
The defense won a legal round Thursday when they got prosecutors to vouch for the accuracy of testimony that buttresses their argument that the cops had reason to believe that Guzman had a gun.
Coopermans ruling came after prosecutor John Castellano insisted that cops shouldnt get special treatment under the law.
Thats very much what this case is about, he said. The rules apply to everyone.
We know that in 99% of the cases, these trial orders of dismissal are denied, Kartagener said. But we still make it.
Another defense lawyer, Anthony Ricco, reminded Cooperman that the undercover detectives were not legally required to identify themselves before they fired.
Cooperman is expected to take at least two weeks to render his verdict.