NEW YORK, April 14 (UPI) — A New York judge postponed sentencing for a former rookie police officer convicted in the 2014 shooting death of an unarmed man after allegations of juror misconduct.
Peter Liang, 28, was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, who was killed in the stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing complex. Instead, defense attorneys argued Liang did not get a fair trial because juror Michael Vargas lied to a judge about his father’s criminal past and his family’s interaction with the criminal justice system. Attorneys also questioned Vargas’ alleged anti-police rants on Facebook.
Liang’s attorneys, who filed a motion for a new trial based on the allegations, questioned Vargas in court on Wednesday. Vargas said he did not mention his father’s criminal history when questioned during jury selection for Liang’s trial because he was asked about the criminal past of close family members.
“I’m sorry to say, and I’m sad to say, that my father doesn’t fall under those qualifications,” Vargas said.
Vargas said he did not remember his anti-police posts on Facebook from two years ago, with comments that allegedly included, “Are the police a legal gang?”
“That’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it,” Vargas said in Brooklyn Supreme Court, later adding, “I don’t think that’s relevant to the case. I don’t remember what I posted two years ago.”
Vargas sat on the jury that convicted Liang of second-degree manslaughter and official misconduct after Gurley, 28, was hit in the chest by a ricocheting bullet. Gurley and his girlfriend were walking in an unlit stairwell inside the Louis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn on Nov. 20, 2014, when Liang burst in and opened fire. Gurley’s girlfriend testified Liang did not offer aid while he was bleeding.
The New York Daily News reported Vargas’ father, convicted of manslaughter, served some seven years in prison after “accidentally shooting a friend.” The newspaper also reported Vargas had mentioned his father’s conviction when questioned for a different jury the same day he was chosen for Liang’s jury.
Prosecutors were scheduled to question Vargas on Thursday. Liang’s sentencing has been postponed until April 19,
“Peter Liang received a fair trial and we will address the motion in court,” the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said.