Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cop shooter faces trial to extend sentence

Bell convicted of assault on city officer

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
— Arnold Bell, convicted of first-degree assault in the shooting of police Officer Robert Fumiatti, was back in Superior Court Monday as jury selection began for a new trial on whether his sentence should be extended in the public interest.
Bell, now 42, was convicted in 2004 on assault and gun charges for shooting Fumiatti in the face during a June 2002 drug bust in the Hill neighborhood. Fumiatti was seriously injured, but survived. He died in January 2007 of an inflammatory heart disease that a medical examiner determined was not related to the shooting.
After the jury convicted Bell, Superior Court Judge Robert Devlin Jr. sentenced him to a 45-year prison term: 40 years for being a persistent dangerous felony offender and five years for criminal use of a weapon.
But last year the state Supreme Court, while upholding Bell’s conviction, ruled that part of the “dangerous felony offender” law used to sentence him is unconstitutional.
The high court ruled that a jury, rather than a judge, should have made the determination that Bell was such a threat to the public that he should spend 40 years in prison instead of 20 years, the usual maximum for first-degree assault.
A few weeks after Bell’s state sentencing, U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas also sentenced him to serve 47 years in federal prison for possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon and violating conditions of supervised release. This sentence runs at the same time as the state sentence. Bell’s attorneys are appealing the federal sentence.
If the new Superior Court jury were to conclude extended incarceration for Bell would serve the public interest, Superior Court Judge Joseph Licari Jr. could sentence him to serve up to 40 years under the persistent dangerous felon law and a concurrent five years for the weapons charge.
The opposing legal teams, led by Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Doyle and defense attorney Jeffrey Kestenband, were able to choose three jurors by the end of the day Monday. Eight jurors are needed in all, two of them alternates. Witnesses are scheduled to begin testifying June 16.
Fumiatti’s father, Vincent Fumiatti, said Monday when reached at his West Haven home that he had no comment on the proceedings, but will try to attend when witnesses testify.
When Licari spoke to a pool of about 45 prospective jurors Monday morning, he told them the case stemmed from the shooting of Fumiatti, who was a police officer. But he told them, “You are not to reconsider his (Bell’s) guilt.”
Licari also informed the potential jurors that Fumiatti died last year from a cause unrelated to the shooting. “His passing has no bearing on this case,” Licari said.
He told the potential jurors the sole question before those who will be empaneled will be “whether a period of extended incarceration will best serve the public interest.”
Bell confused Licari by initially changing into civilian clothes, as arranged, then deciding to change back into prison garb just before he entered the courtroom.
Before the jury pool came in, Licari told Bell that jurors could be “unduly prejudiced” by the stigma of prison garb.
But Bell replied, “This is my choice and this is what I want to do.”
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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