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NYC Shootout Conviction; Gun Belt Saved Policeman

By Jennifer Peltz
|  Friday, Jan 31, 2014  |  Updated 11:10 PM EDT
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Cop Saved by Gunbelt in Shootout

NBCNewYork/Handout

An NYPD officer's spare ammunition magazine (inset bottom right) deflected a bullet during a shootout with a suspect in Manhattan.

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Cop Saved by Gunbelt in Shootout

An NYPD officer was spared serious injury when his gun belt deflected a suspect's bullet during a running shootout Monday morning on the Lower East Side, police said. John Noel reports.
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A man who shot at a police officer whose gun belt deflected a bullet was convicted Friday of attempted murder after jurors rejected his argument that he was defending himself in an encounter that spiraled into a running gun battle on the streets of downtown Manhattan.

Luis Martinez sat completely still as jurors declared him guilty of charges that carry a minimum 20-years-to-life sentence, but defense lawyer Matthew Myers said Martinez was devastated by the verdict. His sentencing is set for Feb. 28.

Police and prosecutors said Martinez abruptly fired at an officer who approached to ask what he was doing in February 2012. Authorities said Detective Thomas Richards narrowly escaped serious injury when the bullet hit a spare magazine on his belt.

"Luis Martinez shot at two cops and came within an inch of seriously injuring or killing one of them," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement Friday. "Today justice was done, not only for the officers and their families, but for all New Yorkers who are tired of their lives being threatened by gun violence."

Martinez, 26, said he feared for his life when confronted by men he didn't realize were officers. They arrived in an unmarked van but were uniformed.

While the defense had been hopeful when deliberations stretched across three days, "it's also inordinately difficult to get over the political incorrectness of getting into a shootout with anyone, let alone with the NYPD," Myers said. He said Martinez planned to appeal.

The gunfight happened at a time of heightened attention to the dangers New York City police faced on their jobs. Four other officers had been shot during the previous two months, one of them fatally.

Richards testified that his partner saw Martinez walking their way - and then turning around when he saw them - on a street on Manhattan's Lower East Side at about 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2012.

Richards told jurors he went up to Martinez and asked what was going on, and Martinez pulled a gun and fired.

"I felt something hit me like a sledgehammer," Richards said.

He said he shot back, Martinez ran and fired at him again, and Richards' partner fired several rounds as they chased Martinez around a couple of corners. Martinez was shot in the buttocks.

Martinez, who was a college student and admitted marijuana dealer, said a couple of robberies had made him anxious about his safety. When two men approached him on the nighttime street, "I reacted, basically, on fear. I thought somebody was going to kill me," he testified.

NYPD Deputy Chief Kim Royster, a police spokeswoman, said the conviction highlighted the diligence of investigators and prosecutors and the work of everyday officers who put their lives at risk.

Richards and his partner, Detective Thomas Dunne, got a police award for their conduct during the shootout.

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