DEFENCE RUNNING OUT OF PUFF?

Several witnesses testify they never saw the star with a gun...

SEAN ‘PUFFY’ COMBS had good day in court yesterday (February 22) as his defence opened with several witnesses testifying they never saw the star with a gun, and that he was well away from where shots rang out inside CLUB NEW YORK.

And prosecution attempts to suggest the rap impresario had tried to bribe another witness into providing evidence that was more helpful to his case fell flat when the witness denied it on the stand.

Strongest witness for Puffy was Trenton Stewart, bouncer at Club New York on the night in question, December 27 1999. The former Marine testified that he had tried to break up the fight that is said to have led to a shooting in which three people were hit by positioning his body between Combs’ body-guard, Anthony ‘Wolf’ Jones, and club patron, Matthew ‘Scar’ Allen.

Combs and Jones were standing directly behind him, he said, just before five gunshots rang out. Stewart said he heard the shots coming from his “oblique left.” The bouncer added the shots sounded as if they were fired from two guns, one of a larger calibre than the other, according to Court TV in the US.

Jones, Combs and co-defendant Jamal ‘Shyne’ Barrow are all accused of carrying 9mm semiautomatics, but the defence has claimed that 40-caliber bullets recovered at the crime scene are proof other patrons fired guns.

Stewart added that moments after the shooting, he spotted Jones and Combs fleeing the club with their hands raised to shield their faces. They had no weapons, he said.

Defence lawyers are clearly working hard to cast doubt on prosecution witnesses who said Combs had a gun inside the club. Two of the gunshot victims said last week that Combs brandished a weapon and Puffy’s chauffeur Wardel Fenderson said Combs was carrying a gun in his waistband. Scar, who was arrested on Wednesday (February 21) after going missing following a no-show at an unrelated court hearing in January, is expected to take the stand as a prosecution rebuttal witness when the defence rests. He has told police he saw Combs fire the weapon.

Also yesterday Prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos launched an attack on Club New York owner Michael Bergos during his cross-examination. He was attempting to establish that Puffy’s chief lawyer Johnny Cochran had attempted to bribe him over a lunch date into keeping his mouth shut.

“When did Mr. Cochran assure you that Mr. Combs would do something to help with the club?” Bogdanos asked.

“I believe during the luncheon, maybe,” Bergos answered.

However, when Bogdanos tried to prove that in return Cochran wanted Bergos and his staff to tell the grand jury that Combs didn’t have a gun in the club, Bergos’ testimony indicated Cochran did nothing wrong.

“Wasn’t the topic of conversation with Mr. Cochran during that lunch to insure that you and your staff didn’t say bad things about Combs?” Bogdanos asked, to which Bergos gave a firm and final “No.”

The case, in Manhattan Supreme Court, is now in its fourth week.

Puffy, Jones and Shyne face charges relating to the shooting. While Puffy and Jones face weapons and bribery charges, Shyne is up on the more serious charges of attempted murder, reckless endangerment and weapons possession.

The case could run for another three weeks.

Outside of the court, the first significant words of support have began to emerge from those not within Puffy’s immediate circle.

In today’s New York Post (February 23) columnist Steve Dunleavy said of Puffy: “Here is a guy who doesn’t need a jail sentence, he needs a swift kick in the pants because he’s guilty of being stone-dead stupid. Not of being a pistolero.” He went on to compare Puffy’s yen to be a real deal “ghetto tough guy” to a similar interest followed by the late Frank Sinatra.

“I wouldn’t want to see him go to jail, because I think he’s guilty of only being a nitwit, a wannabe. A shooting in a nightclub where three people were injured is a darn serious matter,” he concluded. “But it’s sad that Puffy has been put on the grill, mainly because of his celebrity, and certainly because of his stupidity.”