Saturday, March 8th 2008, 4:00 AM
A lawyer for Sean Bell‘s family told the lead prosecutor in a closed-door meeting Friday the family is worried the so-called 50-shot case isn’t being pressed hard enough.
Lawyer Neville Mitchell’s meeting with Queens prosecutor Charles Testagrossa came two days after Bell’s family and fiancée met to discuss the highly charged case.
“I did meet with Mr. Testagrossa [Friday],” said Mitchell, who represents William and Valerie Bell. “We had a discussion about how I feel about what’s going on.
“We’re somewhat concerned about the prosecution. We don’t want to denigrate the prosecution, but we want a little more passion. The family’s looking for justice.”
Another source in the Bell camp was more blunt.
“They’re not prosecuting like they believe in the case,” that source said. “Are they presenting a no-holds-barred case? You could make the argument that they’re not.”
On Wednesday, Testagrossa reassured Bell’s parents, fiancée Nicole Paultre Bell, and lawyers Sanford Rubenstein and Michael Hardy about the case, sources said.
Testagrossa called the half-hour meeting in the district attorney’s fourth-floor offices to mark Valerie Bell’s birthday and warn them about upcoming graphic evidence, sources said.
Hardy vehemently denied any discontent within his camp, saying Paultre Bell thanked Testagrossa Wednesday for his work on the case.
“If there’s some dissatisfaction it is not – and I repeat, not – from Nicole Bell, Trent Benefield and Joe Guzman,” Hardy said.
The meetings come amid widespread criticism about the tone of the prosecution’s case since the trial began Feb. 25.
Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora are charged with manslaughter, and Detective Marc Cooper is charged with reckless endangerment in the Nov. 25, 2006, shooting. Bell was killed and two of his friends wounded in a hail of 50 police bullets; all three were unarmed.
The case also has divided the district attorney’s office, with prosecutors at the highest levels at odds over whether the cops should have been charged so harshly, sources said.
“There’s people in the office who think, because they’re cops, they can do no wrong,” a law enforcement source said.
The second-highest ranking prosecutor in the office, John Ryan, stormed out of a meeting after a disagreement over what charges to bring, sources said. Ryan did not return a call for comment.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown declined to comment, saying through a spokesman, “We will try this case in the courtroom and not on the courthouse steps.”
Critics have derided the prosecutors’ decision to include many witnesses who seem to discredit their case, including undercover Detective Hispolito Sanchez, who said he heard Joseph Guzman mention a gun.
That would seem to undercut prosecutors’ argument that police had no justification to shoot at Bell, 23, and his friends Guzman and Benefield.
Sources also said the family was angry that a crime scene detective volunteered information that two bags of an “unknown leafy green substance” – implied to be marijuana – were found on the scene.
“What does that have to do with the shooting?” said a source familiar with the Bell family’s concerns.