A judge has decided to allow a manslaughter conviction to stand against Peter Liang, the ex-cop convicted of manslaughter in the deadly shooting of an unarmed man in a darkened Brooklyn public housing project.
Liang's attorneys have been arguing to have the verdict thrown out because of juror misconduct. Judge Danny Chun ruled Thursday the juror did not intentionally withhold information during jury selection.
Liang was convicted of manslaughter in February in the shooting of Akai Gurley. Gurley had been walking down to the lobby when Liang was patrolling the inside of the building. Liang opened a door to the stairwell and fired his weapon once accidentally. The bullet ricocheted and struck Gurley.
Liang's attorneys argued that juror Michael Vargas initially told lawyers empaneling a jury that no one in his family had been accused of a crime. But after the verdict, he told a newspaper his father was sent to prison for accidentally shooting a friend who died from the wound.
Vargas was subpoenaed by Liang's attorneys to appear at a hearing on Wednesday and was grilled by lawyer Paul Shechtman. The interrogation, at times, became loud and hostile.
As the hearing continued Thursday, Chun became visibly frustrated as Schectman reviewed Facebook posts by Vargas, which seemed to suggest an anti-police bias.
"Mr. Shectman. Is this the basis for asking this court to overturn a verdict? Facebook posts?" Chun said.
Schectman responded, "I believe I have a great deal more than that."
"Move on," the judge said.
Chun ultimately said Thursday that he believed Vargas did not knowingly withhold the information during jury selection. He said Vargas had "rambled on" during questioning when he was being selected as a juror.
"The court finds he has a rambling way of answering questions and it is entirely conceivable he could not think of his father because he felt distance from his father, or he searched his mind and it didn't enter his mind," the judge said. "It was not a deliberate withholding."
Vargas also testified at the post-trial hearing that he had been raised in group homes and wasn't close to his father, who died more than a decade ago.
"I'm disappointed," Shectman said. "I think we showed this person lied about his father's manslaughter conviction."
Shechtman said he was required to get Vargas to admit that he purposefully lied to get on the jury or that Vargas wanted to get on the jury to convict Liang.
"I'm not a good enough lawyer to get that," he said.
Scott Rynecki, an attorney representing Gurley's family, said that there was no legal basis to throw out Liang's verdict and that it "was the result of a fair and impartial jury."
Liang's sentencing was postponed to April 19. The prosecutor has recommended the former NYPD officer be sentenced to house arrest and probation. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said Liang had no criminal record and posed "no future threat to public safety." He said the incarceration was not necessary to protect the public.
Chun could still send Gurley to prison; A manslaughter conviction carries up to 15 years behind bars.
Liang, who was a rookie officer, was fired after the verdict.