New York Post
December 17, 1999


DIALLO SLAY TRIAL IS MOVED TO ALBANY

By MURRAY WEISS, FRANKIE EDOZIEN, MAGGIE HABERMAN and LAURA ITALIANO

A panel of judges has unanimously moved the Amadou Diallo murder trial to Albany -- agreeing with police defense lawyers that it would be impossible to pick an impartial jury in New York City.

The decision means the four white officers -- who fired 41 times at the unarmed West African immigrant Feb. 4 -- will be tried three hours north of the city that erupted in outrage over the shooting's perceived police brutality and racism.

The ruling cannot be appealed.

Hailed by the officers but decried by Bronx prosecutors and Diallo's family, the decision also means a delay in the original Jan. 3 trial date while a new judge is picked and brought up to speed on the complicated case.

Across the country, even high-publicity trials are rarely moved.

But the panel of five Appellate Division judges wrote in its 11-page decision that moving the Diallo trial is the only way to escape the "incessant drumbeat of prejudicial publicity."

The panel reversed an earlier decision by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Patricia Ann Williams to keep the case in her courtroom. Williams declined to comment yesterday.

"We conclude that this case has been deluged by a tidal wave of prejudicial publicity to such an extent that an attempt to select an unbiased [New York City] jury would be fruitless," the panel wrote.

The "tidal wave" cited included more than 1,000 protester arrests, demonstrations throughout the city, an ACLU newspaper ad picturing 41 bullet holes, a New Yorker magazine cover showing a smiling police officer in a shooting gallery with human-shaped targets, and a New York Post column that included a paragraph consisting of the word "Bang," repeated 41 times.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson said he "could not disagree more strongly" with the panel's decision, which he said "reflects a lack of trust in the jury selection process in general and of Bronx jurors in particular.

Kadiatou and Saikou Diallo, the mother and father of the slain 22-year-old street peddler, were anguished by the decision.

The officers -- Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy -- said through their lawyers that they were elated.

The lawyers have argued that the cops mistakenly believed Diallo was reaching for a gun, and that the shooting is a tragedy -- but not a crime.

Boss' lawyer, Steven Brounstein, said: "My guy's going to testify. He's going to tell me, and tell you, and tell Mrs. Diallo what happened -- and now a fair jury is going to realize that this was just a tragic error."

Carroll's lawyer, Burton Roberts, said the decision means all four cops will have "a fair trial, based on the facts, not on politics or political agendas."

McMellon's lawyer, Stephen Worth, said: "We're very happy that the courts realized this case could not be tried fairly in New York City."

Murphy's lawyer, James Culleton, said: "We're not looking for an advantage. We're looking for a fair jury."

In its decision, the appellate panel wrote that prospective jurors in The Bronx and the rest of the city have been subjected through the media to "endless repetition" of the February shooting's two undisputed facts "that 41 shots were filed and that Mr. Diallo was unarmed," the panel wrote.

Even if they approached the courthouse unbiased, the expected protests would put jurors under "enormous pressure to reach the verdict demanded by the public," they wrote.