First NYPD officer to fire testifies in Sean Bell case

By Rocco Parascandola

Two detectives, including the undercover who fired the first bullet in the 50-shot barrage that killed Sean Bell, told their story yesterday to the Queens grand jury that will decide if any of the five officers involved in the sensational case should be indicted.

Det. Gescard Isnora's appearance, plus that of Det. Marc Cooper, sets the stage for the much anticipated testimony tomorrow of Det. Michael Oliver, who fired the most shots, 31, reloading his weapon in the process.

Sources involved in the investigation expect Oliver to testify, though he has not confirmed he will appear. Two other officers testified on Monday.

The grand jury could begin deliberations as early as next week.

Bell, 23, was killed the morning of Nov. 25, his wedding day, after leaving the Kalua Cabaret, a Jamaica strip club. Bell was in his car with two friends, Trent Benefield, 23, and Joseph Guzman, 31, when Isnora fired.

Isnora's testimony lasted for more than three hours and was intense. He was asked pointed questions by both the prosecutor and the grand jurors, said his attorney, Phil Karasyk.

"I wouldn't say it was hostile but it was vigorous and intense," Karasyk said after Isnora testified. "It was emotional for him, and he did very well. He got his point across. He gave them a picture of exactly what was going through his mind."

The shooting killed Bell and seriously wounded his friends. The undercover, Isnora, police have said, approached Bell's car after hearing an argument in which Guzman vowed to get his gun. No gun was ever found.

Cooper, who fired four times, said nothing to reporters when he showed up. He testified for two hours, then left.

"He answered all the questions posed to him by the grand jury," said his lawyer, Paul Martin. "He is relieved that this part is behind him. It's a tragic situation and that is something he does think about. Again, he's a professional. He acted in a professional manner ... and he's ready to go back to work."

Isnora's testimony is considered crucial because he was the first one to fire. In theory, according to sources familiar with the case, the actions of the other four officers become easier to justify once they explain that they fired after Isnora started shooting the first of his 11 bullets.

Bell's death sparked 50 days of protest outside the 103rd Precinct, which is near the shooting site, even though the officers involved were assigned to a nightclub task force based in Manhattan.

Freelancer Matthew Nestel contributed to this story.

Copyright 2007 Newsday, Inc.

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