A former NYPD officer convicted of manslaughter in February after he fatally shot an unarmed man will not get a new trial, a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge ruled Thursday.
Peter Liang's lawyer, Paul Shechtman, argued that juror Michael Vargas lied during jury selection when he did not disclose that a relative was previously convicted of a crime.
Vargas's father, who is dead, served seven years in prison in the accidental shooting death of a friend. Vargas maintains he was not close to his father and does not know the specifics of the crime.
Liang was convicted of fataly shooting Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man, in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing development.
Vargas who appeared in court over two days to answer questions about his father, insisted that he does not have a close relationship with his dad. That's why, he said, when he was asked during jury selection if a "close relative" was accused of a crime, he responded "no, no."
The juror said he was raised in shelters and didn't know his father growing up, adding that he was unaware of the details of his father's crime.
Shechtman brought up Vargas's earlier testimony from the day of jury selections, saying that during jury selection for a different trial – in which Vargas was not picked – Vargas said his father was arrested when he was young and that he believed it was manslaughter.
Vargas said the discrepancy in his answers lies in the phrasing – the judge in Liang's trial asked if a "close relative" was convicted of a crime, while earlier in the day the question was broad, simply asking about any family member.
"He's not close to me," Vargas said. "He's never spanked me. He never raised me."
The defense challenged Vargas by pointing to a Facebook post from January 2016 – a week after jury selection. In January, Vargas posted a photo and commented "tbt my father and his four brothers."
Shechtman also scrutinized Vargas's other Facebook posts, including ones regarding the police.
"At the time of jury selection, did you think police officers across the country weren't being held accountable?" Shechtman asked.
"In some cases, yes," Vargas said. "I feel that today. I'm entitled to my opinion."
"You think they were getting away with crimes?" Shechtman followed-up.
"Yes, that's my opinion," Vargas responded.
Assistant District Attorney Joe Alexis responded by pointing to a number of other Facebook posts which include comments praising the police, including a story about an officer helping a woman pay for items at a store.
"We don't believe Mr. Vargas lied," Alexis said. "He, like many people, has complex opinions of the police and he's free to post about it."
It is unclear if Liang's lawyers will appeal the ruling. Liang is scheduled to be sentenced next week. Last month Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson recommended five years probation and no jail time.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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