Sentencing postponed for ex-officer in stairwell shooting

AP News
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Posted: Apr 13, 2016 6:10 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge on Wednesday delayed the sentencing for a former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man in a darkened public housing project stairwell as he decides whether to toss the verdict because of a juror.

The ex-officer, Peter 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 last week that Juror No. 9, 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 that his father was sent to prison for accidentally shooting a friend to death.

Vargas was subpoenaed by Liang's attorneys to appear at a hearing on Wednesday and was grilled by lawyer Paul Shechtman. Testimony at times became loud and hostile between them.

"You understood you took an oath to tell the truth and if any of your answers were knowingly false you could be subjected to a perjury charge?" Shechtman asked.

"I guess so," Vargas responded.

Vargas said he didn't know his father well.

Shechtman: "You don't know your father had been convicted of manslaughter?"

Vargas: "I don't know that for a fact, not even today. I do not know what happened. I was young, I was sheltered."

The hearing will continue Thursday. Liang's sentencing was postponed to next week. The prosecutor has recommended the former New York Police Department officer not get prison.

Outside the courthouse, Shectman said Vargas "is not an impartial juror" and that his testimony on Wednesday "showed he's not an honest man." Vargas declined to comment as he left the courthouse on Wednesday.

Liang, who was a rookie officer, was fired after the verdict.