NEW YORK - THREE New York City police officers charged in the 2006 shooting death of an unarmed black man hours before his wedding waived their right to a jury trial on Friday, saying any local jury would be biased against them.
Lawyers for the white, Hispanic and black detectives who fired 50 bullets at the groom and his friends have argued that intense media coverage of the death of Sean Bell, 23, had made it impossible to find a neutral jury in New York.
State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Cooperman set opening arguments for Feb 25.
The policemen appeared determined to avoid facing a jury in the New York City borough of Queens, where Bell was killed and his two friends were wounded around 4 am on Nov 25, 2006.
'The potential jury pool was poisoned right from the start,' said Michael Paladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association. 'It has nothing to do with the good people of Queens. They were hit with an avalanche of negative publicity.'
On Wednesday an appeals court rejected their request to move the trial outside the city.
'I think that it is stunning that these officers want to do everything but be accountable to the people they serve in Queens,' civil rights advocate Al Sharpton said in a statement.
'Now that their motion to change the venue has been denied, they do not want to face a jury of their peers whom they serve and by whom they are paid.'
Two of the detectives are charged with criminal manslaughter and face up to 25 years behind bars. The third detective is charged with reckless endangerment and faces a maximum of one year.
Mr Bell died in the 50-shot barrage as he and his friends left a strip club after a bachelor party.
Police say the officers shot at Bell's car as it tried to run them over. They had pursued the group in the mistaken belief someone had gone to fetch a gun to settle a dispute that began inside the club. All three men were unarmed.
The venue dispute mirrors a similar case nearly a decade ago, when four police officers charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed West African man, Amadou Diallo, were tried - and later acquitted - in Albany, the mostly white state capital.
That shooting took place in the Bronx, which, like Queens, has a large minority population. -- REUTERS