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Slain bridegroom's father testifies at NYC trial

Police Shooting
Nicole Paultrie-Bell, Sean Bell's fiancee, on Monday attends the trial for three police officers accused in Bell's shooting death.Ellis Kaplan / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The father of a man killed in a hail of police gunfire on his wedding day testified Tuesday that he saw one of the three undercover detectives on trial for the shooting in the bar where his son's bachelor party was held.

On the second day of testimony in the trial, 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.