Juror’s Past Threatens NYPD Conviction

     BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Peter Liang, the former New York City police officer convicted of killing an unarmed black man, won a sentencing delay Wednesday amid new revelations from one of the jurors who convicted him.
     “You lied during that voir dire, didn’t you?” Liang’s attorney Paul Schachtman asked juror Michael Vargas at a tense hearing this afternoon.
     “That’s your opinion,” Vargas replied.
     Vargas had been on the jury that convicted Liang of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Akai Gurley in a public housing stairwell on Nov. 20, 2014.
     Gurley had been in a stairwell of his East New York apartment building, the Pink Houses, while Liang and his partner, Shaun Landau, were working a floor-by-floor sweep of the housing project, what the New York City Police Department calls a vertical patrol.
     While opening the stairwell door, Liang heard a sound below and fired his gun. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Gurley in the chest and liver, killing him. Liang insisted that the shooting had been an accident.
     After Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson recommended that Liang face no prison time, the New York Daily News quoted juror Vargas as denouncing what he called a “slap on the wrist.”
     Vargas also told the New York Daily News that his estranged father, Noberto Vargas Sr., served a seven-year manslaughter sentence.
     When Vargas had mentioned his father’s conviction in a prior voir dire, he was excused from that jury.
     During jury selection for the Liang case later that day, Vargas answered “no” when Justice Danny Chun asked whether any “close family” of his had been convicted of a crime.
     Vargas denied on the stand today that this was a lie.
     “I’m sorry to say, and it’s sad to say that my father doesn’t fall under those qualifications,” he testified.
     Vargas, who grew up in numerous homes for boys, claimed to have a foggy memory of what happened to his father. He alternately recalled the victim of his father’s shooting as either a friend or a fiancee of the man.
     He testified that his father remarried multiple times, but that he did not know whether he had divorced his mother before then.
     Schachtman pressed the juror about his social-media posts criticizing the police and accusing the government of intentionally provoking revolution.
     “Every time the police shoot an unarmed person, they bring this country one step closer to a revolution,” Vargas wrote in one of these posts.
     Questioning whether police were “a legal gang,” Vargas took to Facebook often to post and comment on articles about police using a Taser on an 8-year-old girl (“Really? An eight-year-old?”) and beating an innocent person to death (“Why don’t they see how messed up they really are?”).
     Justice Chun asked Vargas today why he failed to mention these opinions during jury selection.
     “You didn’t feel it was appropriately necessary to tell the judge that?” Chun asked.
     Vargas replied: “I don’t remember what I posted two years ago.”
     Questioning of Vargas will continue on Thursday afternoon. Liang’s sentencing has been pushed back to Tuesday at the earliest.

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