Former police officer Peter Liang lost his bid for a mistrial on Thursday following the testimony of a juror accused of lying during jury selection.
Liang’s defense team filed the motion last week alleging that a juror, Michael Vargas, lied about his father’s manslaughter conviction and more than 7-year prison sentence. Liang, 28, was convicted in February for the 2014 stairwell shooting death of Akai Gurley, also 28.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun said the defense had not met its burden for proof of jury misconduct.
“The court finds that... [Vargas’] ability to answer questions was not someone who was at the top level of intelligence and the court finds that he has a rambling way of answering questions,” Chun said during his decision, referencing how Vargas was asked the same question multiple times during jury selection.
“It is entirely conceivable that he could not think of his father because he felt distance from his father. It was not a deliberate withholding of the father’s past,” Chun said.
During Vargas’ earlier testimony, he said, “There’s not much memory of my father. There really isn’t.”
He testified that he last saw his dad about 35 to 40 years ago. “I don’t know how to explain it, he just wasn’t there.”
Vargas said on Wednesday that he was estranged from his father and wasn’t fully aware of the conviction, claiming he was “sheltered.”
Liang’s attorney, Paul Shechtman, also questioned Vargas’ testimony during a different jury selection earlier the same day he was chosen for the Liang trial. For that jury, Shechtman said Vargas was forthcoming about his father’s history and was dismissed.
“The one thing we know and we can say with complete confidence is that Peter Liang was entitled to a trial with 12 impartial jurors, not 11,” Shechtman said in court. “And I think the evidence shows that this juror lied, withheld important information.
“He wanted to be on this jury to exercise his bias,” he added.
Assistant District Attorney Joe Alexis said Vargas didn’t “purposefully” lie about his relationship with his father, and in fact felt badly about convicting Liang, crying and praying about it.
“I don’t believe there was a concealment,” Alexis said. “He’s not prejudiced. He had no strong feelings about the police either way.”