New York Post
February 3, 2000


D.A.: DIALLO COPS SHOT TO KILL

By Laura Italiano

   
Day in Court: Defense attorney Steven Brounstein pleads the case of Kenneth Boss. -AP  

ALBANY -- Prosecutors came out swinging in dramatic opening statements in the Amadou Diallo trial yesterday, claiming four NYPD cops callously fired 41 shots at the unarmed man even as he fell to the ground.

Four bullets fell out of Diallo's body as he was lifted off the bloody carpet in his Bronx apartment vestibule, a prosecution witness later revealed -- suggesting that the last bullets to strike him had no chance to exit the West African immigrant's body, because he was already down.

"A human being should have been able to stand in the vestibule of his own home and not be shot to death," lead prosecutor Eric Warner told jurors.

"Especially when those doing the shooting are police officers."

"We do not believe these four defendants woke up that morning and came on duty that night intending to kill. But when they got there, they made a conscious decision to shoot a man," Warner added.

But the cops' lawyers landed their own punches in four brisk, coordinated openings.

They repeatedly stated the shooting was a "mistake," an "accident" and a "tragedy."

"The district attorney wasn't on Wheeler Street at 12:40 a.m. on February 4th," said James Culleton, lawyer for Officer Richard Murphy, referring to the time and address of the racially charged shooting.

In their version, Diallo unwittingly led to his death by acting "suspicious," trying to avoid the officers, then reaching for his wallet as the cops shouted at him to hold up his hands.

"The officers identified themselves with their shields [badges] out ... Mr. Diallo doesn't listen to their orders to stop, which they are trained to give," said Bennett Epstein, Sean Carroll's lawyer.

Carroll, after realizing the mistake, tried to resuscitate Diallo, saying, "Don't die, please don't die."

But in implicating Diallo, the defense earned the ire of the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"The inference is that he caused what happened," Sharpton said, adding the charge "pours salt in the wounds" of Diallo's grieving mother, Kadiatou.

The defense also scored some important, early tactical victories in their battering cross-examinations of the prosecution's first witness -- the crime scene cop whose pen and camera helped catalog the bloody, bullet-ridden shooting site.

Defense lawyers lit into Detective Joseph Flannino, saying he reached the crime scene an hour after the shooting, allowing time for the scene to become "tainted."

They also mocked Flannino's brightly illuminated crime scene photos, and how he used them to back his claim that the pre-dawn Bronx street -- and the vestibule where Diallo died reaching for what turned out to be his wallet -- had "satisfactory" lighting.

Also yesterday, the jury of four black women, two white women, and six white men sat poker-faced as they viewed Flannino's graphic pictures of Diallo's body -- although some held a hand to their face or appeared to grit their teeth.