Far from being a mere point of interest, the makeup of this jury could have far-reaching ramifications for this trial in part because it may quell pro-Diallo protesters' fears that moving the trial from the Bronx to overwhelmingly white Albany helped the defense. And while race is undoubtedly on the minds of everyone watching the trial Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant living in the Bronx, was shot 41 times by four white police officers White says Judge Terisi has made it clear there will be no race-baiting in his courtroom. "Tuesday, Terisi stopped a defense lawyer in his tracks when he brought up the issue of race. He told the lawyers to stick to the evidence at hand."
That evidence may prove difficult for the defense to overcome; Tuesday, a police detective testified that Diallo's body was so riddled with bullets that some actually fell out of him as he was taken away from the scene. The sheer number of bullets looks to be a key stumbling block in the defense's case. Each of the 41 bullets, prosecutors point out, had to be squeezed out of the police weapons with a separate motion, and not, as has been implied, with a single machine gun-like squeeze. "The defense needs to emphasize the tragic mistake aspect of the murder," says White. "The worst mistake they can make is to blame Diallo, or to suggest he asked for what happened to him."
In fact, this may be exactly the tack some members of the defense team plan to take; while the prosecution alleges that the police who were in plainclothes as part of an aggressive anti-crime initiative gave Diallo no warning before firing on him, defense lawyers claim the victim ignored their shouts to stop, and "acted suspiciously" by ducking into the vestibule of his apartment building. Inside the entryway, Diallo turned away from the police and pulled a black object out of his back pocket police thought the object, which was in fact a wallet, was a gun, and opened fire. The melee that followed was exacerbated, defense lawyers allege, when one of the policemen fell on his back, prompting terrified firing from his partners.
"The crux of the case," says White, "is whether the police told Diallo to stop." If they didn't warn him, or identify themselves, White says, they have little in the way of defense. Attorneys for the policemen contend, without irony, that each of the plainclothes officers was wearing his police medallion around his neck a detail the police evidently expected Diallo to process correctly at the same instant that they were mistaking Diallo's wallet for a weapon.