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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Jury to decide if man who shot cop should get more prison time

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Defense attorneys Tuesday called character witnesses to testify about Arnold Bell’s job record and parenting in an effort to convince jurors he does not deserve extended incarceration for shooting New Haven police Officer Robert Fumiatti.
The Superior Court jury heard from Bell’s former supervisor as well as from his daughter, 21-year-old Ahmia Bell.
Bell was found guilty in April 2004 by another jury of first-degree assault for shooting Fumiatti in the face during a June 2002 drug bust in the city’s Hill neighborhood. Fumiatti recovered but died in January 2007 of a heart ailment unrelated to the shooting.
The jury must decide whether it would serve the public interest for Bell, now 42, to receive extended incarceration of 21-40 years. The usual sentencing range for first-degree assault is 5-20 years.
Under the "dangerous felony offender" law, a longer sentence can be imposed. Bell has an extensive record of felony convictions. But after a Superior Court judge handed down a 45-year prison term, the state Supreme Court ruled a jury must make the decision about extended incarceration.
The criteria for the jury are Bell’s character, history and the nature and circumstances of his criminal conduct.
During her testimony, Ahmia Bell frequently cried as she tried to describe her father. She said he regularly sent her birthday and holiday cards from prison and supported her through phone calls. Under questioning by defense attorney William Paetzold, Bell said her father gave her guidance and had been honest with her.
But, under cross-examination, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Gary Nicholson asked Ahmia Bell if her father cared about her, and when she answered that he did, Nicholson questioned why Bell’s father was not home with her the night he shot Fumiatti.
But under cross-examination by Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Gary Nicholson, Bell acknowledged she wanted her father released from prison as soon as possible.
"He cares for you?" Nicholson asked. She replied that he did.
"If that’s the case," Nicholson asked her, "what was he doing out there on Hurlburt Street when he shot Officer Fumiatti?"
When Paetzold objected to this question, Judge Joseph Licari Jr. sustained the objection and Bell did not have to answer.
But Nicholson then asked, alluding to the night of the shooting: "He wasn’t home with you, was he?" She admitted he was not. Also Tuesday, Anthony Carbone, Arnold Bell’s supervisor at Fleet Pride in North Haven, said Bell worked long hours and never gave him any trouble. Bell worked there for about 2½ months
Carbone, who is distribution manager at the trucking company, said Bell worked there from about February 2002 until the night Fumiatti was shot.
Carbone said Bell regularly worked overtime punching in at 7 a.m. and not leaving until 5 p.m.
Defense attorneys also called to the witness stand Stephen Cox, chairman of the Department of Criminology at Central Connecticut State University. He testified that as criminals got older they generally commit fewer and less violent crimes. But Cox acknowledged he does not know Bell and had not studied his criminal history. Nicholson asked Cox, "Is it fair to say the longer a person’s criminal record is, the more likely he’ll re-offend?" Cox said this is true.
Bell has an extensive record of felony convictions.
Cox also told Nicholson he was unaware Bell’s level of violence increased as he grew older. According to studies, Cox had said, criminals generally start to become less violent in their late 20s. Bell was 36 when he shot Fumiatti.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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