February 24, 2000

Jury Enters Day 2

The Associated Press

Albany -- The jury in the trial of four white police officers charged with murdering an unarmed black man resumed deliberations today after being read testimony of a woman who says she saw the shooting.

The witness, Schrrie Elliott, had testified that she watched from across the street as the defendants confronted Amadou Diallo and, without warning, gunned him down on his Bronx doorstep.

Pressed by the defense, she also admitted making statements to both federal authorities and a news reporter that one of the officers shouted "He's got a gun!” before the shooting began, and that the victim remained upright throughout most of the shooting.

The case, which went to the jury on Wednesday, hinges on the defense claim that the officers fired 41 bullets at Diallo because they thought he had a gun and was threatening them. State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi has instructed jurors, "A person who acts in self defense is not guilty of any crime.” On Wednesday, the judge spent more than three hours going over the legal instructions for each of 24 criminal counts before giving the case to the jury.

Teresi gave the jurors the option of considering charges other than murder, and told them the law allows police officers to stop and question someone if wrongdoing is suspected.

"You should figuratively put yourselves in the shoes of each defendant and consider how the situation appeared to him,” the judge said. "You should consider what Amadou Diallo did before or during the encounter.” Earlier, Teresi replaced a female juror for talking about the case outside of court. The jury is now composed of four black women, one white woman and seven white men.

Sean Carroll, 37, Edward McMellon, 27, Kenneth Boss, 28, and Richard Murphy, 27, each have pleaded innocent to second-degree murder. They face a maximum prison sentence of 25 years to life if convicted.

Lesser charges being considered include second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, which could result in a sentence of probation without jail time.

The defendants were members of a roving unit of New York City plainclothes officers that has been accused by some of stopping and frisking young black men without cause. Diallo's slaying sparked such intense publicity and so many protests that the case was moved to Albany.

Prosecutors allege that Diallo, 22, was gunned down in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building on Feb. 4, 1999, without warning or justification. He was hit 19 times.

The defense claims Diallo ignored the officers' repeated orders to halt and pulled out a black object in a threatening manner. It turned out to be a wallet.

During deliberations, the jury asked to hear a transcript of testimony from Carroll and McMellon, along with Elliott.

Carroll and McMellon were the first to confront and shoot Diallo. Elliott, who lives in Diallo's neighborhood, testified that she heard a policeman shout "Gun!” before shots erupted -- proof, the defense said, of the officers' belief that Diallo was armed.

Teresi rejected a demand Wednesday by defense attorney Stephen Worth to bar Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson from the courtroom. Worth complained it was unfair to allow Johnson to stay after the judge decided to keep out a well-known defense supporter -- paralyzed New York City police officer Steven McDonald -- because he might distract the jury.

It's Up to the Jury Deliberating fate of four officers who killed Amadou Diallo

By Graham Rayman Staff Correspondent

Albany -- Jurors began deliberating the fate yesterday of the four police officers accused of murdering West African immigrant Amadou Diallo and quickly asked for read-backs of some testimony.

After an emotional three-week trial and three grueling hours of instruction on the law by Albany State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi, the seven-man, five-woman jury officially received the case at 1:17 p.m.

By yesterday evening the panel was listening to read-backs of some of the testimony of two of the officers who fired the most shots: Sean Carroll and Edward McMellon. The jurors also asked for a read-back of all the testimony of a woman who was the only eyewitness.

The witness, Schirrie Elliott, had been called by the defense and caused major problems for the defendants when she testified that Diallo was not standing for most of the shots although she had given a contradictory account during a television interview. Elliot also said

she heard the word "gun" before the shooting. The officers contend they thought Diallo had pulled a gun on them and that they fired in self-defense.

The parts of Carroll and McMellon's testimony dealt with the moments when they got out of their car outside Diallo's home on Wheeler Avenue in the Bronx the night of Feb. 4, 1999.

The jurors also requested two upright easels, markers, pens, masking tape and a yardstick.

The jury, which is being sequestered, ended the first day of deliberations at 8:30 p.m. yesterday. They are to return today at 9:15 a.m.

The day began with a surprise as Teresi excused Juror No. 4, identified in court papers as Dawn Evon, after a friend of hers called the judge Tuesday night to tell him she had been discussing the case. Evon could not be reached for comment last night.

Following an investigation by the Albany County Sheriff's Office, Teresi and the lawyers in the case questioned Evon, a white woman, in his chambers and replaced her with Alternate No. 1, a white man in his 30s. Teresi said Evon, who had been discussing the case with friends for two weeks, was "very embarrassed" about the incident.

The incident was the second involving a juror. Last week, another juror was contacted inadvertently by the local newspaper here, the Albany Times-Union, but Teresi did not dismiss the juror in that instance.

In his charge to the jury, Teresi used the phrase "self-defense" dozens of times and repeatedly advised jurors that they could "put themselves in the officer's shoes," before he sent them in to deliberate. Teresi's charge on self-defense was so repetitive because he read the entire jury instruction on justification for each charge of the indictment. Those charges include intentional murder and depraved indifference murder, as well as the charge of reckless endangerment.

Teresi told jurors that if they acquit the officers of intentional murder they are to consider the lesser included offense of first-degree manslaughter. He also said if the panel acquitted the officers of depraved indifference murder they could consider the lesser included offenses of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

When a defense lawyer objected to an aspect of the instruction, Teresi remarked he had "bent over backwards" to be fair to the defense. Outside the courtroom, the Rev. Al Sharpton said such repetition was excessive and misleading.

Once the jury went inside, the waiting game began for the four defendants -- Carroll and McMellon as well as Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy.

Outside, on the warmest day of the trial, demonstrators, police and passersby stopped to watch the scene. A Buddhist monk knelt in the melting snow, chanting and poundinged on a drum. Protesters on both sides, most supporting the officers, traded barbs in front of the television cameras.

As the lone black supporter of the officers bellowed into a microphone, a black man passing by called him a "sellout" for supporting the police officers.

A woman approached Sharpton and yelled, "What about Steve Pagones?" In 1998, a Dutchess County jury found that Sharpton had defamed Pagones, once an assistant prosecutor, during the Tawana Brawley case.

Late yesterday, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson appeared in the gallery for the first time. McMellon's lawyer Stephen Worth immediately asked the judge to bar Johnson from the courtroom. Previously, Teresi had barred disabled police officer Steven McDonald from the courtroom to avoid prejudicing the jury. McMellon argued that if the officer, who uses a wheelchair, could not enter the court room, then the Bronx district attorney should also be kept out.