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Jury Gets NY Police Conspiracy Trial

The judge in the trial of three New York City police officers charged with conspiring to conceal the role of one of them in the stationhouse torture of Abner Louima instructed jurors Wednesday to focus on the alleged cover-up -- not the assault.

The jurors, eight women and four men, began deliberating after U.S. District Judge Eugene Nickerson told them they "need not determine the extent of any role the defendant (Charles) Schwarz may have played in the sexual assault" on Louima.

Instead, the judge said, Â"You need only determine whether one or more of the defendants conspired to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation by providing false or misleading information in an effort to exculpateÂ" Schwarz.

In conspiracy cases, Â"actions speak louder than words,Â" Nickerson added.

Schwarz, 34, was convicted last year of violating Louima's civil rights by holding him down in the bathroom at the 70th Precinct stationhouse while another officer, Justin Volpe, sodomized the Haitian immigrant with a broom handle in a fit of rage on Aug. 9, 1997. He faces a possible life sentence.

In the second trial, prosecutors alleged Schwarz and officers Thomas Bruder, 37, and Thomas Wiese, 37, lied to protect Schwarz. They face terms of up to five years if convicted.

The defense tried to convince the jury there was no conspiracy by arguing Schwarz was never in the bathroom. Volpe, who is serving 30 years in prison, emerged as a key defense witness, testifying that Wiese, not Schwarz, was in the bathroom with him.

Schwarz himself testified last week that during Volpe's assault on Louima, he was outside the building, inspecting his patrol car.

During closing arguments Tuesday afternoon, attorney Ronald Fischetti said that once the feds decided to accuse Schwarz, Â"the die is cast. They ain't going to change it, and they haven't changed it for 2 1/2 years, and they got the wrong guy.Â"

The government sought to expose a supposed Â"blue wall of silenceÂ" in a case which along with the shooting of Amadou Diallo has fueled allegations of widespread abuse of minorities by police.

Prosecutors relied on records showing the officers made a flurry of phone calls to each other as investigators descended following the attack on Louima. The pattern and timing of the calls was such that they could have been for no other reason than to Â"get their stories straightÂ" to protect Schwarz, prosecutor Alan Vinegrad said in his summation.

If Schwarz is acquitted of conspiracy, attorneys have said they plan to file a motion for a new trial in the assault case.