BROOKLYN (CN) - While recounting the moment he fired on Akai Gurley, killing the unarmed father just over a year ago in a New York City stairwell, Police Officer Peter Liang's voice cracked.
The testimony Monday, given under direct examination by Gurley's own attorney, comes as the much-scrutinized case moves to closing arguments. Jurors must decide how Liang's tears today align with the callous image painted by the government over the course of the two-week trial.
Though the defense hopes jurors will see Liang as a confused two-year rookie who panicked, prosecutors noted that Liang had been whining about the shooting would get him fired, when he could have been performing first-aid on Gurley.
Facing a top charge of negligent homicide, Liang has long acknowledged that his bullet needlessly killed Gurley, who died on Nov. 20, 2014, in a stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses.
Liang and his partner Shaun Landau were in the East New York housing project that night for a routine patrol.
After the officers took an elevator to the eighth floor to inspect the roof, where only police and housing officers were allowed, Liang said he entered the dark stairwell with his gun in his left hand and a flashlight in his right.
He said his finger was on the side of his weapon when it fired in the direction of people he heard there floors below.
"What the fuck happened?" Liang said he heard his partner ask.
"I told him that I accidentally fired a shot," Liang testified.
Liang acknowledged that he said "I'm going to be fired" when Landau told him to call it in.
Insisting that neither he nor his partner realized the bullet had hit someone, Liang remembered Landau telling him: "Nothing's going to happen to you."
There was a roughly 45-second window between the gunshot and Liang's realization of what he had done, he said.
Crying as he spoke of that moment, Liang stopped answering his lawyer's questions, and the court took a brief recess for the officer to compose himself.
Trial restarted with Liang testifying about when "everything sunk in."
"I couldn't believe someone was hit," he said. "So I just broke down."
An ambulance arrived after Gurley's girlfriend Melissa Butler asked a neighbor to call 911, and a recording of the call showed that Gurley stopped breathing before the call ended. Emergency workers took both Gurley and Liang from the scene.
"EMS gave me a mask to breathe into because I had a hard time breathing," Liang said. "When I got to the hospital, that's when they gave me a pill to calm me down."
During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Joe Alexis led Liang through the elements of his police training that the officer's actions that night contradicted.
That training allowed police to pull out their guns only in response to a violent crime in progress, a hidden violent crime suspect, or complications with known violent offenders, the prosecutor said.
Liang agreed that none of these categories applied.
The prosecutor also pressed Liang on his decision not to use his police radio to get a faster response from officers.
Defending that decision, Liang said: "You didn't want officers coming in from other directions and leaving their post unattended."
Liang agreed that he never examined Gurley's pulse, checked to see if he was breathing, or tried to resuscitate him.
Melissa Lopez, who also lived in the Pink Houses, testified earlier at the trial that she shouted CPR instructions to Gurley's girlfriend, Butler.
Liang agreed that Butler was "hysterical" at the time and crying "uncontrollably."
Led by Liang's attorney Rae Koshetz, the defense rested at the end of the officer's testimony. The prosecution chose not to present a rebuttal case.
Both sides will deliver closing arguments on Tuesday morning.
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