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The BBC's Jane Hughes reports
"Critics describe the case as a glaring example of what they call endemic police racism and brutality"
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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 22:40 GMT
NY police 'deliberately' killed immigrant

Kenneth Boss, one of the accused, enters court

The trial of four New York police officers on charges of killing an unarmed West African immigrant in the Bronx has opened in the New York state capital, Albany.

A human being should have been able to stand in the vestibule of his own home and not be shot to death

Prosecutors said that the officers "made a conscious decision" to kill 22-year-old Amadou Diallo when they fired 41 bullets in the lobby of his apartment building on 4 February 1999. He was hit 19 times.

The killing sparked massive street protests against police brutality. A BBC correspondent in Washington, Jane Hughes, says critics describe the case as a glaring example of what they call endemic police racism and brutality.

The prosecutor, Bronx Assistant District Attorney, Eric Warner said the four policemen, who had all been in plain clothes, had failed to shout any of the usual warnings - such as "Police, stop!" - before shooting Mr Diallo.

Defence lawyers said the shooting was a tragedy but not a crime.

'Conscious decision'

The policemen are charged with second degree murder, and face prison sentences of 25 years to life if found guilty.

Amadou Diallo: unarmed but shot at 41 times Amadou Diallo: unarmed but shot at 41 times

DA Eric Warner said the policemen had been reckless.

"We do not believe these four defendants woke up that morning and came on duty that night intending to kill. But when they got there, they made a conscious decision to shoot a man standing in a confined space of a vestibule no bigger than an elevator," said Mr Warner.

"A human being should have been able to stand in the vestibule of his own home and not be shot to death, especially when those doing the shooting are police officers sworn to protect innocent people," he added.

'Self defence'

Defence attorneys for the four officers argued that the case was one of mistaken identity, and the only motive for the shooting was self-defence.

The policemen had opened fire because they thought Mr Diallo was pulling out a gun when in fact it was his wallet, they said.

Demonstrators outside the Albany courthouse

"No crime was committed. There are no villains seated in this courtroom," said James Culleton, the attorney for one of the accused.

"All you will see are four victims," he said of the defendants.

"They were four young men who were frightened," Mr Culleton said.

The first witness called was New York Police Department crime scene Detective Joseph Flannino, who testified that both the street and the vestibule Mr Diallo stood in were well lit on the night of the shooting, countering the defendants' contention that it was dimly lit.

The trial was moved to Albany after the defence complained that public attitudes in the Bronx were often hostile to the NYPD.

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See also:
31 Jan 00 |  Americas
Protests ahead of NY police trial
23 Feb 99 |  Americas
NYPD under fire over killing
12 Feb 99 |  Americas
New Yorkers mourn in their thousands
01 Sep 99 |  Americas
Outrage at NYPD shooting
04 Aug 99 |  Americas
Police lessons for black teenagers

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