NEW YORK – District attorney investigators began questioning two survivors of a deadly police shooting that left one man dead hours before his wedding, and one of the survivors spoke from his hospital bed to call for calm.
Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, both still hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds, "have begun their cooperation with the Queens district attorney's office," attorney Sanford Rubenstein said Monday.
The men were expected to help answer two key questions about the perplexing case: Was there a fourth man, perhaps armed, in or near the car with the others when the first of five officers opened fire, and did that officer identify himself?
Guzman, speaking from his bed at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, told the Daily News that the officer "never" identified himself to them before firing the first bullet of a 50-shot fusillade. His lawyer has said there was no fourth man in the car.
"I took 16 shots, but a superstar died that night," Guzman told a Daily News reporter, referring to his friend, 23-year-old Sean Bell, who died after being hit in the torrent of bullets. "I loved him."
Guzman, wearing green hospital pajamas, called on city residents outraged by the shooting to exercise restraint. "No violence, man. No violence. Not in my name."
Bell was killed as he left his bachelor party, hours before he was to marry his high school sweetheart.
Speaking to a cable news station Monday, a subdued Nicole Paultre told interviewer that she was focused on staying strong for their two young children.
"I'm really not angry," she said in her first extensive comments since Bell's death. "I'm more just trying to be strong. We just want justice. I want justice. Me and my family, we want justice. That's it, and that's what we're praying for and hoping for."
Through his lawyer, the initial shooter has insisted he had his badge out and had identified himself when, believing Guzman was pulling a gun, he opened fire. He and other witnesses also have said there was a fourth man in or near the car who escaped on foot, possibly with a weapon.
Union officials met behind closed doors with prosecutors on Monday and urged them to be impartial in their investigation of the killing of Bell on Nov. 25 outside a seedy Queens strip club. That night the club was both the venue for Bell's bachelor party and a target of an undercover vice operation.
"Fiction on the street shouldn't become fact in the courtroom," Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, said following the meeting.
District Attorney Richard Brown had a similar sit-down last week with Bell's fiance and other grieving relatives.
The union officials said prosecutors offered no timetable for when a grand jury might begin hearing evidence, including the testimony of the five officers. The officers have been put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the probe, and their guns have been taken away.
Visiting a Florida elementary school with Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was offended by some of the protests since the shooting, including one sign that read, "Death to Pigs."
"It's disgusting and disgraceful and they should have learned from the past that those kinds of thoughts and signs have no place in our society, no matter what happened Saturday morning a week ago," the mayor said.