An attorney for the former NYPD officer convicted of manslaughter for accidentally firing into a public housing stairwell and killing an unarmed man told NBC 4 New York he filed a motion Tuesday seeking a retrial because of juror misconduct.
Paul Schectman and other attorneys for Peter Liang, 28, argue that one of the jurors in the case, 62-year-old Michael Vargas, had said nobody in his close family had ever been accused of a crime. But Vargas told newspapers after the trial his father had served time in prison for a manslaughter charge more than 40 years ago.
"Mr. Vargas' deliberately false answer was designed to secure him a place on the jury, which would not have been his had he given a truthful answer," the motion filed by Liang's attorney states.
Vargas told the newspaper police officers "deserve to be prosecuted and sentenced just like everyone else who has the same background or committed the same crime."
On Tuesday, Vargas defended himself when asked by the News about the allegations.
"“They are grasping at straws. Do they really think I (convinced) 11 other jurors to convict him; they must be out of their minds,” Vargas told the newspaper.
Liang's attorneys said the statement suggests Vargas "harbored doubts about the validity of his father's manslaughter conviction, which took his father from the family for seven years. It appears he wanted to make sure that a police officer did not get off easy for similar conduct."
The Daily News did not name Vargas in its article but identified the juror as 62 years old, which means he could only be Vargas, according to Liang's lawyers.
The motion adds that Vargas published several Facebook posts in 2014 suggesting a belief that police officers acted aggressively and excessively. He shared videos and photos with captions like, "What's wrong with some police?" "Are the police a legal gang?" and "Who checks out the people hired to protect us?" according to the motion.
Liang's attorneys argue that "[Vargas'] misconduct denied Mr. Liang the right to an impartial jury and requires a new trial in this case."
A spokesman for Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said in a statement, "Peter Liang received a fair trial and we will respond to the motion in court."
Thompson has already recommended that Liang receive probation and six months of house arrest when he's sentenced later this month. Though the charge carries no requirement for prison time, Liang faced up to 15 years in prison. Liang was fired from the police force upon his conviction in February.
Thompson said that while Liang acted recklessly, he didn't intend to kill the victim, Akai Gurley.
The rookie officer had been patrolling the public housing high-rise with his gun drawn in 2014 when he said a sudden sound startled him and he fired. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley, 28, on a lower floor.
At the trial, prosecutors argued that Liang should not have had his gun out. They also said he did nothing to help Gurley as he lie dying on the floor. Liang's attorney had argued that Gurley's death was tragic, but was not a crime.
A second officer who was present at the shooting scene was also fired from the force over allegations that he didn't do enough to help Gurley.
While the judge does not need to follow Thompson's proposal at Liang's sentencing proceeding next month, sentencing recommendations from prosecutors typically hold significant weight in most criminal cases.