Jury begins deliberations in Figoski case

Court officers escort Lamont Pride, center, into a

Court officers escort Lamont Pride, center, into a courtroom during his trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court. (Jan. 28, 2013). (Credit: Charles Eckert)

A Queens man testified in his own defense Thursday that he was just giving a ride to a friend the night the friend and three other men allegedly robbed a Brooklyn drug dealer and killed NYPD Officer Peter Figoski during the flight from the scene.

Michael Velez, 22, of Ozone Park, said none of the others mentioned a robbery, and he did not hear one of the men chambering a round, while in the car, into the 9-mm handgun allegedly used to kill Figoski.

The prosecution alleged Velez was the getaway driver, and used his cellphone to call the men inside 25 Pine St. shortly after 2 a.m. on Dec. 12, 2011, to warn them police were arriving.

Velez said he called the cellphone of one of the men because, "They were taking forever," and he wanted to buy purified water for his 1-year-old daughter and get home.

He said his friend, Nelson Morales, 28, also of Ozone Park, wanted "to buy some weed," from a man who lived in the basement of the Brooklyn house owned by Morales' uncle.

Morales didn't explain, nor did Velez ask him, why three other men -- Lamont Pride, Kevin Santos, 31, and Ariel Tejada, 23 -- got in the backseat of his car, Velez testified. He said he fled after hearing a gunshot.

Figoski, 47, of West Babylon, had been going down the basement stairs in response to a report of a robbery in progress when he encountered Pride, 28, of North Carolina, who shot him in the face, prosecutors said.

The top charge against Pride is murder in the first degree. The other four men are charged with murder in the second degree under the theory that a person was killed while they allegedly committed another felony, the robbery.

Tejada testified in exchange for a promise of a reduced sentence. Morales and Santos, both of Queens, are awaiting trial.

Separate juries are hearing the case of Pride and Velez before Justice Alan Marrus in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. The Pride jury began deliberating Thursday morning and sent out several notes during the day. Pride didn't take the witness stand.

At the Pride jury's request, Marrus reread his legal instruction on what constitutes aggravated murder of a police officer, and less serious crimes, including second-degree murder.

Both juries adjourned late Thursday and were to resume work this morning.

Figoski's father, Frank, 79, returned to the courtroom Thursday after he suffered a medical condition during Tuesday's court session and was rushed to the hospital. He monitored Wednesday's proceeding on an electronic feed in a conference room.

"I'm glad to see everyone is here today," the judge said Thursday morning before the proceedings began, directing his comments to where the elder Figoski was once again sitting with family members.

"Thank you your honor," Frank Figoski replied, partially rising from his seat.

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