NEWORLEANS- After Trung Le pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the Bourbon Street shooting that killed a woman and wounded nine other people, two very different pictures of the chaotic scene emerged at a contentious court hearing requested by Le's attorney.
Defense attorney Martin Regan went beyond his previous argument that Le shot in self-defense, portraying his client as a 'hero' who probably prevented more casualties.
Regan presented three of Le's companions from that night, including one friend who was shot four times. Robert Benvenuti credited Le with saving his life when he pulled out a gun to defend himself and his friends against another man who angrily wielded a .40-caliber pistol.
Prosecutors maintain that the evidence supports the manslaughter and attempted charges that were returned against Le by a grand jury last week. Those charges were a step down from Le's original charges of first-degree murder and nine counts of attempted first-degree murder at the time he was booked.
Regan presented the witnesses Wednesday in an attempt to reduce Le's bond, which now stands at $1.5 million. Le, 21, has been locked up since his arrest in Mississippi several days after the shooting.
Benvenuti, who referred to Le by his nickname 'Joe,' testified that he was shot four times in the lower body by the other gunman and that Le's actions probably saved him from far more serious wounds.
'Joe pushed me to the side when that guy had a gun pointed at my head,' Benvenuti said. 'That dude is the one that shot everybody. It's on the video. It's obvious.'
But two homicide detectives testified that surveillance videotape of the scene does not clearly show the second gunman brandishing a weapon until Le fires the first shot. The second gunman remains unidentified and at large.
Two of Le's other friends who were at the scene disagreed with the detectives about the video, saying it shows the second gunman 'swinging a gun' while walking on Bourbon Street before the altercation. They testified that the second shooter then confronted their group and pointed the gun at them at close range.
Assistant District Attorney Laura Rodrigue scored a point for the prosecution when she got Benvenuti to concede under cross-examination that Le probably fired the first shot.
The NOPD's acting homicide commander, Sgt. Nicholas Gernon, said he believes the most telling videotape shows the second shooter pulling a gun from his waistband, but only after Le pulls his weapon.
Ad Hoc Judge Dennis Waldron denied Regan's request to obtain a copy of the video until prosecutors turn over all their discovery evidence on Sept. 4.
Waldron said the bond reduction request by Regan will resume on Sept. 11 after the defense has had time to absorb the evidence. But Regan insisted that he could prove his client's innocence on the spot if given access to the surveillance tapes.
'This will be the easiest bail hearing your will ever hear,' Regan said. 'A picture is worth a thousand words.'