Puffy Trial Begins

Attorneys present opening arguments, first witnesses called in Puffy weapons trial

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Attorneys on both sides of the weapons possession case against Sean "Puffy" Combs and bodyguard Anthony "Wolf" Jones and the attempted murder charge against rapper Jamal "Shyne" Barrow drew upon the David and Goliath mythos in their opening arguments Monday in Manhattan Superior Court.

On the one side, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos sat alone, with no aid or assistance against his formidable opposing counsel, a team of seven attorneys including Johnny Cochran as its visual centerpiece. Yet the defense made much of its and its clients' prestige -- as a sympathy ploy. When addressing possible motives as to why complete strangers might draw fire on Barrow and Combs, Barrow's chief counsel Murray Richman suggested that jealousy was a factor. "In order to become a giant killer, you have to kill the giant," he said in his opening argument. "You have to bring him down."

In a ninety-minute recount of the events of the December 1999 nightclub shooting at Club New York, Bogdanos laid out the prosecution's case cleanly and methodically, with almost no flair and a touch of self-deprecation. He put together the evening's events in the form of a cohesive story that need only be dissected to get at the truth. His version also depicts driver Wardel Fenderson as fearful of Combs.

Combs' attorney Benjamin Brafman, the first defense attorney to make his case, was a little more dramatic, though not nearly to the level expected of his more flamboyant co-counsel Cochran. "You will hear everything," Brafman instructed the jury, "you will listen, and you will decide. And you will decide he's not guilty."

Richman blamed other "violent people" for instigating the night's melee, and contrasted that with Barrow's character, portraying him as an innocent who still lives with his mother and "doesn't even smoke." On the other hand, Fenderson was painted as an outright liar and an opportunist. Jones' attorney Michael Bachner likened him to a contestant on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" who keeps giving the wrong answer, and will therefore change his answer to win the prize, citing his pending lawsuit against Combs.

Bogdanos called his first two witnesses to begin to set the time and atmosphere for the night's events. Bogdanos called the 911 dispatcher from the night of the shooting and a police officer stationed on foot patrol across the street to the stand. The latter testified that after hearing three to four shots, he saw Barrow flee the building with a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun in his waistband, and tackled him. Bogdanos asserted that the gun on Barrow's person is a match with the one used in the shooting.

A motion to extend the hearing's gag order to include all agents of the parties involved, including friends and family, was stayed at press time. The trial continues Wednesday.