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Witnesses: Slain groom involved in club spat

A witness says a man gunned down hours before his wedding outside a New York strip club had argued with another man who may have been armed.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A groom gunned down hours before his wedding in a hail of 50 police bullets had argued with another man who may have been armed moments before his death, two witnesses testified Thursday at the trial of three detectives.

Two prosecution witnesses said they were with Sean Bell the night he was killed. Hugh Jensen and Lorenzo Kinred, testified that while exiting a Queens strip club where Bell had his bachelor party, Bell and an unidentified man exchanged words and scowls. The man, they said, stood next to his black sport utility vehicle and struck a menacing pose by putting his hand in one pocket.

"Of course I thought he had a gun," Jensen testified.

The testimony from the two witnesses appeared to bolster the undercover detectives' claim that they resorted to deadly force because they suspected a gun fight was brewing.

Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora face manslaughter charges in the shooting on Nov. 25, 2006. Detective Marc Cooper is charged with reckless endangerment.

The detectives — part of an undercover investigation launched in response to complaints about prostitution at the club — have claimed they fired on Bell and his associates only after Isnora identified himself as a police officer and Bell's car nearly ran him over.

No weapon was found in the car, and a grand jury investigation resulted in criminal charges against three of the five shooters. At the defendants' request, the case is being heard by a judge and not a jury.

Last night in Queens
Jensen, 34, also testified that he noticed two men — unaware at the time it was Isnora and another undercover — watching intently as Bell and the SUV driver squared off. He saw the man drive off as Bell and two friends walked around the corner, then heard gunfire erupt.

Jensen claimed he never heard one of Bell's friends talk about getting a gun, as the defense contends.

The judge also heard testimony from Lt. Gary Napoli. Though not charged, the leader of the undercover team has been chastised for sloppy supervision and for ducking under a car dashboard once the shooting started.

Prosecutors have described the undercover operation as a "tale of carelessness verging on incompetence."

Napoli said that the Kalua Cabaret strip club was not among the locations listed on the team's plan that night. However, he decided to target the club because the team — amid rumors it was being disbanded — needed one more arrest there to obtain a court order to shut down the club.

"It was, for all intents and purposes, our last night in Queens," he said.