NEW YORK -- Three New York detectives were acquitted of all charges Friday in the near 50-shot killing of an unarmed groom on his wedding day.
Justice Arthur Cooperman delivered the verdict in a New York courtroom packed with spectators, including victim Sean Bell's fiancee and parents, with at least 200 people gathered outside the building.
The high-profile case put the New York Police Department at the centre of yet another dispute over the alleged use of excessive firepower.
The verdict provoked an outpouring of emotions. Bell's fiancee immediately walked out; his mother cried and gasps were heard throughout the room.
Shouts of "No!" and "Not guilty!" erupted outside the courthouse, and dozens of people began crying.
Mr Bell, a 23-year-old black man, died in a hail of gunfire outside a strip club in Queens on 25 November 2006 - his wedding day - as he was leaving his stag party with two friends.
Officers Michael Oliver, 36, and Gescard Isnora, 29, stood trial for manslaughter while Officer Marc Cooper, 40, was charged only with reckless endangerment. Two other officers were not charged.
Oliver fired 31 shots; Isnora fired 11 rounds; and Cooper shot four times.
The officers, complaining that pre-trial publicity had unfairly painted them as cold-blooded killers, opted for a judge to decide the case rather than a jury.
Justice Cooperman suggested the police officers' version of events was more credible than others involved in the incident.
"The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that each defendant was not justified in firing", he said.
The manslaughter charges carried up to 25 years in prison; the penalty for reckless endangerment is a year.
Mr Bell's fiancee, parents and their supporters have held rallies demanding that the officers - two of whom are black - be held accountable.
None of the officers took the stand. Instead, Justice Cooperman heard transcripts of the three testifying before a grand jury that they believed they had good reason to use deadly force.
The judge also heard from Mr Bell's two companions, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, who insisted the incident erupted without warning.
Both were wounded, and Mr Guzman still has four bullets lodged in his body.
On the same day Mr Bell decided to have a last-minute stag party at Kalua Cabaret, the undercover detectives' had chosen to investigate reports of prostitution at the club.
As the club closed at about 4am, Isnora, and Hispolito Sanchez, another undercover detective, claimed they overheard Mr Bell and his friends taunt a stranger, who responded by putting his right hand in his pocket as if he had a gun. Mr Guzman, they testified, said: "Yo, go get my gun," something Mr Bell's friends denied.
Isnora said he decided to arm himself, call for backup and follow the trio as they went to Mr Bell's car.
He claimed that after he warned the men to halt, Mr Bell pulled away and rammed an unmarked police van with Oliver at the wheel. Isnora said Mr Guzman made a sudden move as if he were reaching for a gun.
"I yelled, 'Gun!' and fired," he said. "In my mind, I knew he had a gun."
Mr Guzman said Isnora "appeared out of nowhere" with a gun drawn and shot him in the shoulder - the first of 16 shots to enter his body. "That's all there was - gunfire," he said.
With tyres screeching, glass breaking and bullets flying, the officers said they believed they were under attack. Oliver responded by emptying his semiautomatic pistol, reloading, and emptying it again.However, when Mr Bell's blood-splattered car was examined, no weapon was found inside it.