The New York Times

February 9, 2000

Defense Testimony Backfires in Diallo Trial

By The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The first eyewitness to take the stand in the Amadou Diallo murder case backfired on the defense Wednesday when she testified that police officers continued to shoot the unarmed black immigrant after he had fallen to the ground.

Defense attorneys had called Schrrie Elliot to the stand in the hope her testimony would support the officers' contention they believed Diallo had pulled a gun.

But on cross-examination, Elliot said that she watched from across the street as four plainclothes New York City police officers cornered Diallo and opened fire.

"They continued shooting while (Diallo) was down?" prosecutor Donald Levin asked.

"Yes," Elliot replied, breaking into tears.

Elliott said she saw the shooting as she walked home from the subway after midnight in the Bronx last February. She described the officers jumping out of a car with their guns drawn, forming a semi-circle on the sidewalk outside Diallo's door and opening fire.

The testimony prompted defense attorneys to ask Justice Joseph Teresi to declare Elliott a hostile witness. The judge agreed to let them cross-examine her about her account later.

Elliott emerged as the trial's first eyewitness to the shooting after the defense subpoenaed her to testify on behalf of Officers Kenneth Boss, 28, Sean Carroll, 36, Edward McMellon, 27, and Richard Murphy, 27.

The officers, all white, are charged with murder and could get 25 years to life in prison.

The slaying of the black West African immigrant in a barrage of 41 bullets touched off protests against police brutality. An appeals court ordered the case moved to Albany, 150 miles from New York City.

The defense claims that Diallo refused orders to halt, then pulled out a black wallet that appeared to be a gun. It also argues the officers' high-powered pistols fired fast enough for Diallo to stay on his feet, possibly up against a wall, throughout the shooting.

It was unclear why prosecutors had not used Elliott as their own witness. The defense -- after seeing videotape of her being interviewed by a TV reporter -- called her to testify she heard one of the officers yell, "Gun!" before the shooting began.

Elliott spoke softly and repeatedly sighed under questioning by defense attorney Stephen Worth. She said she knew the four men she spotted on Diallo's block were plainclothes officers because "I've had past dealings with the law." She did not elaborate.

Levin used his cross-examination to ask Elliott a rapid progression of questions detailing a damaging version of the shooting.

The woman claimed she had a clear view from across the street of Diallo as he stood with his back to the officers.

"Did you hear anyone yell, 'Stop' or 'Freeze' or 'Show your hands'?" Levin asked.

"No," Elliot replied.

"You don't know who said, 'Gun,' do you?" the prosecutor asked.

"No," she said.

Worth later went on the attack, sarcastically asking Elliott, "The police shot Mr. Diallo for no good reason?"

"Yes," Elliott replied.