NEW YORK (AP) — A man accused of firing the shot that killed a police officer during a robbery gone wrong was acquitted Monday of intentionally murdering the officer but found guilty of lesser charges.
Jurors deliberated for about 10 hours over three days before finding Lamont Pride guilty of second-degree murder, burglary and aggravated manslaughter in the death of Officer Peter Figoski.
He faces 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 28. Had he been convicted of the top charge of first-degree murder, he would have faced life without parole.
When the verdict was read, officers who packed the courtroom gasped. The slain officer's mother covered her mouth in shock.
Patrick Lynch, president of Figoski's union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the family was dismayed. "They're disappointed beyond belief," he said.
"The killer brought a gun to a robbery, racked a round into its chamber to be certain that he could fire it at any point during the crime and he used it to kill a man who was a great cop and great father in order to escape," Lynch said. "If that doesn't demonstrate intent, then it is hard to imagine what does."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he had hoped the charge of aggravated murder would have prevailed.
"The murder of a police officer is a crime on a monstrous scale, worse than other murders, because society invests in police officers the authority to enforce the law on their behalf," said Kelly, who added that he hoped the verdict would provide some measure of comfort to the Figoski family.
The case against Pride revolved around whether he meant to kill the officer or whether, as he said, it was a horrible accident.
"For Lamont, this was the best-case scenario," said attorney James Koenig, adding that he was glad the jury concluded that his client didn't mean to kill the officer. But "this was not a victory for anyone. It's a tragedy all around."
Pride and four others were accused of plotting to rob a drug dealer who lived in a shabby basement apartment in Brooklyn on Dec. 12, 2011. Suspect Nelson Morales picked out the spot — his uncle's building, and he said he was in on it, according to suspect Ariel Tejada, who testified against Pride in court.
But the uncle didn't know, and he called police when he heard a commotion in the basement. As officers arrived, Morales and Tejada pretended to be victims while Pride and another man, Kevin Santos, hid in a boiler room near the only exit, according to trial testimony.
Pride had a loaded 9mm semi-automatic pistol racked and ready to go. He tried to run out the door but met Figoski face-to-face, and a shot rang out. Figoski was hit in the face and died at a hospital.
Pride raced down the street and dumped the gun under a parked car before he was arrested. In videotaped statements to authorities, he tries to explain that the gun just went off, that he didn't intentionally shoot anyone.
"I never took the hand off the trigger," he said in his videotaped statement. "That was my mistake."
He said another person had the gun and he grabbed it from him because he was worried he was going to get shot. As he was trying to escape, he tripped on the stairs going out as Figoski was coming in, he said.
When he hit the ground, the gun went off. "BOOM!" he said, as he lay on the floor of the precinct in the video to show officers and Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Taub how he fell.
Tejada agreed to testify against the others for a reduced sentence of 15 years. Pride's attorneys tried to discredit Tejada as a liar and criminal eager to save his own skin and pin the crime on others.
The case against Michael Velez, accused of driving the getaway car, is still being heard.
Santos and Morales will be tried later.
Lynch said the jury failed to do its job and was sending a bad message to a police department tasked with protecting the public.
"There's a moral pact with police officers, that if you kill a New York City police officer, you will put them away forever," he said. "Practically speaking that may well happen, but this jury should not have settled."