Attorneys for former NYPD Officer Peter Liang, who was found guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley, are seeking a retrial on the basis of alleged juror misconduct.
According to attorney Paul Schectman—who joined Liang's defense team after the verdict was read in February—one of the jurors did not disclose during selection that his father served prison time for a manslaughter charge.
The juror in question, 62-year-old Michael Vargas, told the Daily News anonymously late last month that his father had served seven years in prison for accidentally shooting a friend.
Vargas also joined some of his fellow jurors in criticizing Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson's recommendation that Liang get five years of probation, but no prison time. "They [NYPD officers] deserve to be prosecuted and sentenced just like everyone else who has the same background or committed the same crime," Vargas said, adding, "if something is wrong, you shouldn't get a slap on the wrist."
According to the retrial motion, Vargas's "deliberately false answer" during jury selection was designed to "secure him a place on the jury, which would not have been his had he given a truthful answer."
"Mr. Vargas's falsehood was not accidental or inconsequential," the motion states. "It was a major lie. What his father was convicted of was... the very crime for which Mr. Liang was on trial—manslaughter involving an unintentional shooting."
In an interview with the NY Times on Tuesday, Vargas countered that he had been raised in orphanages and boy's homes, and had never lived with his father, Noberto Vargas. "It didn't cross my mind to think about him [during jury selection] because he wasn’t an important person in my life," Vargas said.
A spokesperson for Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said in a statement, "Peter Liang received a fair trial and we will respond to the motion in court." A hearing for the retrial motion hasn't been scheduled yet.
Liang shot Gurley while performing a vertical patrol in a darkened stairwell of the Pink Houses in East New York in November of 2014. Gurley was unarmed.
Last month, Liang's lawyers filed a separate motion to overturn the convictions on the grounds that the rookie cop did not receive adequate CPR training.
Liang is the first NYPD officer to be put on trial for killing a civilian since 2008, and the first to be found guilty of killing a civilian in decades. He is scheduled for sentencing on April 14th, and faces a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison.