A manslaughter conviction brought against former NYPD police officer Peter Liang was postponed Thursday. Liang’s attorneys were seeking a new court date, arguing that Juror No. 9, Michael Vargas, was prejudiced in the trial, refusing to declare that his father had spent time in prison, information that would have seen him removed from the jury.
As ABC News reports, Judge Chun said the juror did not hold back information about his father on purpose during the jury selection. Vargas had been questioned and asked if “anyone in his family” had been convicted or arrested of a crime. Vargas had replied that his father had been arrested when he was a little boy, but that he never knew the truth because they tried to conceal it from him.
He went on, saying “[M]y father was arrested, I was a young child, I never knew the truth because they tried to hide it from me but I guess it was manslaughter.” He was dropped but later reeled in as a member of the potential jury pool for Liang’s case.
He was asked again “Have you or anyone close to you been accused of a crime?”
He had said no.
Vargas defended himself, saying he said no because he did not share a close relationship with his father and it was not on his mind at that point. He added that he had been raised in foster homes and had not set eyes on his dad in decades. A local paper had reported that his father went to prison for accidentally shooting a friend.
Judge Danny Chun described Vargas rambling during the selection instead of being more straightforward with his answers or replies as the reason for the confusion.
“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 distant from his father, or he searched his mind and it didn’t enter his mind. It was not a deliberate holding,” he said.
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Liang’s attorney, Paul Shechtman, said he was disappointed with the way things unfolded, noting that it was obvious that Vargas lied about his father’s criminal status. Attorney Scott Rynecki, representing the Gurley family, said there was no legal rationale to throw out Liang’s conviction because of one juror.
“It was the result of a fair and impartial jury,” he said.
The hearing to have the conviction overturned forced Judge Chun to postpone Liang’s sentencing to next Tuesday, according to the Guardian.
Protesters gathered outside the court, urging Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson to “stop killing Akai again and again and not disgrace his legacy” after recommending that Liang be put under house arrest and forced to do community service instead of going to prison.
Gurley’s family, in a joint statement, said the district attorney was chosen to help return the faith to the justice system and not allow officers act with impunity without punishment. They condemned his utterances as a “betrayal of promise.”
In 2014, Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were conducting a patrol in a neighborhood in East New York. Liang said he had entered a pitch-dark stairwell, heard a noise, and his gun “just went off.” The bullet had bounced off the wall and hit Akai Gurley in the chest. He was 28.
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) April 14, 2016
Liang was found guilty of his crimes because he refused to provide medical aid to Gurley, who did not succumb immediately to his chest wound. The former police officer said he had emotionally broken down after the incident and was not trained to provide emergency medical aid since he was just a police cadet.
[Photo by Mary Altaffer, File/AP Images]