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In Peter Figoski murder case, judge admonishes Kevin Santos' attorney for trying to exclude white jurors

Kevin Santos sits by his lawyer in court

Kevin Santos sits by his lawyer in court in Brooklyn during a hearing prior to going to trial in the murder of police officer Peter Figoski of West Babylon in 2011. (April 29, 2013) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

A Brooklyn judge said Monday that a man accused in the murder of NYPD Officer Peter Figoski in 2011 could be limited in his challenges to trial jurors because his defense attorney deliberately tried to exclude white people from the jury last week.

Justice Alan Marrus told attorney Howard Baker, representing Kevin Santos of Ozone Park, that if Baker repeated the "misconduct," he might lose his use of peremptory challenges. Lawyers can usually use those challenges to eliminate potential jurors without stating a reason, but they cannot be used on racial grounds.

"If it continues, I have the power to take away peremptory challenges," Marrus told Baker before the next pool of jurors entered the courtroom Monday.

Jury selection continued through the morning in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn without incident. Of the first pool of 60 prospective jurors, all but 16 were excused within minutes after indicating they could not sit on a trial that would last through the end of the month. A second, smaller panel was called from the central jury pool, but the central pool had run out of potential jurors by early afternoon, the judge said.

Baker challenged all seven white people from a 30-person pool on Wednesday when jury selection began. Marrus seated two of the white jurors and accused Baker of "chutzpah."

During the weekend, Baker wrote a letter to the judge asking him to reconsider his ruling, but the judge refused Monday.

Baker said in court that the "chutzpah" remark "cast me in a very bad light."

The judge said Baker had only himself to blame. "Obviously, it was your conduct that made it an issue, and I had to rule on it. . . . I found it was misconduct," the judge said.

Marrus is overseeing the selection of two trial juries that will hear evidence against Santos, 32, and Nelson Morales, 28, also of Ozone Park.

Both are charged with murder in the death of Figoski, 47, of West Babylon, who was fatally shot on Dec. 12, 2011, when he walked into the botched robbery of a drug dealer.

They are charged with felony murder on the grounds that they were committing a felony that resulted in Figoski's death.

Shooter Lamont Pride, 28, is serving 45 years to life for the murder. The alleged driver was acquitted, and a fifth crew member has taken a plea deal in return for his testimony.

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