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Opening Statements In Diallo Case

The tragic police shooting of Amadou Diallo goes from the streets of New York City to a racially-mixed jury Wednesday, reports WCBS-AM reporter Irene Cornell.

Nearly a year after they fired 41 bullets at an unarmed black man in the Bronx, four white police officers now must defend their actions in a courtroom 150 miles away.

Opening statements in the racially charged murder trial of Sean Carroll, 36, Edward McMellon, 27, Kenneth Boss, 28, and Richard Murphy, 27, were to begin Wednesday before a jury of four blacks and eight whites.

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Opening statements in the Amadou Diallo police shooting trial

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The officers - who planned to testify in their own defense - have pleaded innocent to second-degree murder and reckless endangerment charges in the slaying of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

The defendants were part of a plainclothes unit trying to catch violent criminals when they approached Diallo in the vestibule of his apartment building shortly after midnight on Feb. 4, 1999.

They claim they fired from their rapid-fire pistols only after the 22-year-old street vendor made a sudden move as though to reah for a gun. Nineteen of the shots hit him.

"The defense in this case is justification, self-defense - I tell you that right now," McMellon's attorney, Stephen Worth, said during jury selection this week.

The prosecution was expected to rely on medical evidence and civilian witnesses to convince jurors the officers ignored signs of their mistake. Instead, they allegedly continued to shoot Diallo after he was down - demonstrating a "depraved indifference to human life."

Cornell reports Diallo's mother said she is hoping and praying for justice.

The slaying was immediately cited by critics of the New York Police Department as a glaring example of police brutality involving minorities. It triggered a wave of pretrial publicity and civil unrest, and prompted an appeals court to rule the officers - all white - could not get a fair trial in New York City.

The case was moved to Albany, where Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi decided the trial could be televised. Testimony is expected to last about a month.

The 12-member jury, whose forewoman is black, was picked in just two days. It includes a middle school teacher, a Korean War veteran and the wife of a former FBI agent. Three jurors said they have family or other ties to the Bronx.

Civil rights activists worried that moving the trial to Albany might result in a mainly white jury favorable to the defense.

Defense lawyers, meanwhile, showed Tuesday that they were concerned about the issue of race as well.

Addressing a black woman with a grown daughter, Worth asked: "Let me ask you as the mother of a 21-year-old black female, maybe do you say to yourself, 'That could have been my daughter?'"

"I don't think it will impact how I could listen to the case," replied the woman, who was seated on the jury.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report