A former corrections officer who moonlighted as a bodyguard for Sean "Puffy" Combs testified today (Jan. 31) that he had never once seen the rap impresario carrying a weapon. Prosecution witness Leona
Updating an earlier story posted here, a former corrections officer who moonlighted as a bodyguard for Sean "Puffy" Combs testified Wednesday (Jan. 31) that he had never once seen the rap impresario carrying a weapon. Prosecution witness Leonard Curtis Howard said he would never have associated himself with Combs if the defendant had carried a firearm.
"If he is going to carry an illegal firearm, there is no reason for me to be there," Howard said under cross-examination. "I'm not going to put my job in jeopardy for Mr. Combs."
The rapper and hip-hop businessman was arrested on Dec. 27, 1999, after he fled a Club New York, a Manhattan nightclub, with his girlfriend, actress/singer Jennifer Lopez. Combs, 31, was charged with gun possession and bribery for allegedly offering his driver $50,000 to take the rap for having a gun found in their vehicle. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of bribery, the higher charge.
Earlier Wednesday, defense attorney Benjamin Brafman had moved unsuccessfully for a mistrial because he was upset by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos' use of Howard's grand jury testimony to contradict his trial testimony.
At trial, Howard testified that he had seen Combs frisked on occasion when entering nightclubs. But Howard told the grand jury that he had never seen Combs searched in that situation -- an important distinction, since prosecutors claim the Grammy-winning rapper carried a gun into the nightclub and fired a shot on the night of his arrest.
"When a witness lies as egregiously as Mr. Howard did, it is incumbent upon the (questioning) attorney to point that out to the jury," Bogdanos said.
Combs' rap protege, Jamal "Shyne" Barrow, 21, is charged with attempted murder and assault for allegedly firing a pistol in the club, wounding three patrons, during a dispute in which another patron reportedly insulted Combs. Also charged with illegal gun possession was Combs' bodyguard that night, Anthony "Wolf" Jones, 34.
Howard testified that because he has cancer, his memory is sometimes foggy. After being diagnosed with the disease, he retired from his job as a corrections officer and began working as a bodyguard, currently serving as president of his own security company.
Lawyers for both sides also debated the value of ballistic evidence obtained by New York Police Department detective Edward Wallace and theorized about hypothetical shooting scenarios, including ricochets and the possibility that more than one person could have been injured by the same bullet.
A 17-year NYPD vet, Wallace retrieved two bullets, four bullet casings, and spotted several bullet markings on the walls of Club New York. He found bullet markings in the ceiling, above the club's bar area, and near the dancefloor. Wallace said he could not prove whether those bullets and casings were ejected from a gun on the night of the incident. He also said it was impossible to age the bullet markings.
On a large floorplan of the club, he diagrammed the probable path of some of the bullets fired that night. He said that, according to his evidence, at least five shots had been fired.
On the night of the incident, police arrested Barrow, who walked out of the nightclub just moments after shots were heard with a semi-automatic Ruger pistol in his waistband. The prosecution is expected to argue that either the casings or bullets found by Wallace match the gun found on Barrow.
Another gun was retrieved from Combs' Lincoln Navigator on the night of the incident. Both that gun, a semi-automatic Smith & Wesson pistol, and the Ruger carried no fingerprints, Wallace said. He did mention that the chamber in the Ruger was three bullets shy of the maximum number the pistol can carry. The Smith & Wesson was also missing three bullets.
About two hours after the shooting, Wallace tested Barrow's hands for traces of gunpowder residue. Though he took samples, the police department never sent those samples in for analysis. Wallace explained that, regardless of the results, the data would have proved nothing.
While being apprehended and later jailed, Barrow was no doubt cuffed by a police officer, whose hands very well could have carried gunpowder residue, Wallace testified, adding that policemen often have traces of the gunpowder on their hands simply from touching their weapons.
On Wednesday, Combs was flanked by a three-person legal team that included Brafman and former O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran. Barrow is represented by two attorneys, while Jones is employing only one attorney. Bogdanos, meanwhile, worked alone Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, an attorney representing Jones asked the judge to instruct Bogdanos to refrain from referring to his client as "Wolf."
Later, former Club New York cocktail waitress Monica Caban testified that she never saw a gun during the two hours she served Combs and his entourage of about 10 people on the night of the incident. She also said that when shots were fired, she didn't see the shooters. Instead, she said she ducked behind a DJ.
On a lighter note, Caban evoked a few chuckles from the lawyers, press, and members of the public in the courtroom when she mentioned that she didn't receive a tip from Combs, who she says disputed a roughly $4,000 bill for several bottles of champagne and other alcoholic drinks. The bill was settled by her manager, who later informed her that she wouldn't be receiving a tip.
Combs, Brafman, Cochran, and Bogdanos all declined comment on the progress of the trial, which continues today (Feb. 1) and is expected to last several weeks.
As jury members filed out of the courtroom Wednesday, Judge Charles Solomon reminded each not to talk about the trial to anyone, as well as not to read, watch, or listen to anything about the trial.