February 9, 2000

Sequence of Shooting

An expert says he thinks police shot Diallo after he was down

By Graham Rayman Staff Writer


In crucial testimony, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Amadou Diallo's body said yesterday he believed the West African was shot three times by police officers while he was on the ground.

Using computer drawings and graphic crime- scene photos, Dr. Joseph Cohen asserted that a shot to Diallo's chest "early on" shattered the aorta and nearly severed his spine, forcing a steep drop in blood pressure and paralyzing him from the waist down. That wound, Cohen said, caused Diallo to fall to the ground.

As Diallo was falling to the floor of the vestibule in his apartment building last Feb. 4, he was hit on the left side by some 15 bullets, said Cohen, now the chief medical examiner in Riverside, Calif. Three more bullets hit Diallo while he was down, including one that traveled up his right shin and lodged near his knee, he said.

"You couldn't be upright with your feet on the ground to sustain that unless someone was underneath the floor shooting up," said Cohen.

Cohen's testimony elicited sharp questions from defense lawyers who challenged the sequence of shots and the effect the wounds had on Diallo.

Cohen was the 11th and final prosecution witness in the trial against four street crime unit officers -- Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy -- who are charged with second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. Prosecutors had called 47 witnesses to testify before the grand jury that indicted the officers.

Cohen's testimony was crucial to the prosecution's contention that the police fired some of their shots as Daillo either lay on the floor of the vestibule or was falling down.

Cohen, who left New York seven months ago for his new job, sparred through the afternoon with defense attorneys who tried to undermine his findings.

When defense attorneys charged that his testimony doesn't comport with the position of Diallo's body, Cohen alleged that Diallo's body was re-positioned at some point after the shooting.

The integrity of the crime scene has been a recurring theme in the trial. One police witness said last week that there were "well over 50" officers on the scene shortly after the shooting.

An FBI agent told the jury he returned to the crime scene three weeks after the incident and found four bullets that were missed by the NYPD crime scene unit.

On cross-examination by McMellon's lawyer Stephen Worth, who described the pathologist's views as "guesswork" and "speculation," Cohen acknowledged that he could not be sure of the exact sequence in which the bullets struck Diallo.

Cohen was also asked how long Diallo could have remained standing after being shot in the chest. He said it would have been a matter of seconds before Diallo would have collapsed to the ground.

Cohen also admitted that parts of his findings were still developing long after his autopsy report was filed. In September, for example, he re-examined Diallo's spinal cord.

Immediately after the prosecution ended its case, defense lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the charges -- second-degree murder and reckless endangerment charges.

The lawyers also asked Justice Joseph Teresi to allow the jury to consider lesser charges, such as manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

"The evidence is legally insufficent beyond a reasonable doubt," Carroll's lawyer, Bennett Epstein, said of proving the second-degree murder and reckless endangerment charges. "They have failed to attribute fatal wounds to any one defendant. There has been no evidence to satisfy the standard for depraved indifference to human life."

Teresi said he would reserve an opinion until later in the trial. The defense case starts this morning, with lawyers expected to call several civilian witnesses and an police Internal Affairs sergeant who investigated the case. At least one civilian may testify with his or her identity obscured for the television broadcast of the trial.