NEW YORK (AP) — A man accused of firing the single shot that killed a New York City police officer during a robbery gone wrong was acquitted Monday of intentionally murdering the officer but found guilty of lesser charges.
Jurors deliberated for about 10 hours over three days before finding Lamont Pride guilty of second-degree murder, burglary and aggravated manslaughter in the death of Officer Peter Figoski.
He faces 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 28. Had he been convicted of the top charge of first-degree murder, he would have faced life without parole.
When the verdict was read, officers who packed the courtroom gasped. The slain officer's mother covered her mouth in shock.
Patrick Lynch, president of Figoski's union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the family was disappointed. "They're disappointed beyond belief," he said.
"The killer brought a gun to a robbery, racked a round into its chamber to be certain that he could fire it at any point during the crime and he used it to kill a man who was a great cop and great father in order to escape," Lynch said. "If that doesn't demonstrate intent, then it is hard to imagine what does."
The case against Pride revolved around whether he meant to kill the officer, or whether, as he said, it was a horrible accident.
"For Lamont, this was the best-case scenario," said defense attorney James Koenig, adding that he was glad the jury concluded that his client didn't mean to kill the officer. But "this was not a victory for anyone. It's a tragedy all around."
Pride and four others were accused of plotting to rob a drug dealer who lived in a shabby basement apartment in Brooklyn on Dec. 12, 2011. Suspect Nelson Morales picked out the spot — his uncle's building, and he said he was in on it, according to suspect Ariel Tejada, who testified against Pride in court.
But the uncle didn't know, and he called police when he heard a commotion in the basement. As officers arrived, Morales and Tejada pretended to be victims while Pride and another man, Kevin Santos, hid in a boiler room near the only exit, according to trial testimony.
Pride had a loaded 9mm semiautomatic pistol racked and ready to go. He tried to run out the door but met Figoski face-to-face, and a shot rang out. Figoski was hit in the face and later died at a hospital.
Pride raced down the street and dumped the gun under a parked car before he was arrested by police. In videotaped statements to authorities, he is seen trying to explain that the gun just went off, that he didn't intentionally shoot anyone.
"I never took the hand off the trigger," he said in his videotaped statement. "That was my mistake."
He said another person had the gun and he grabbed it from him because he was worried he was going to get shot. As he was trying to escape with the gun, he tripped on the stairs going out, as Figoski was coming in.
When he hit the ground, the gun went off. "BOOM!" he said, as he lay on the floor of the precinct in the video to show officers and Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Taub how he fell.
Tejada agreed to testify against the others for a reduced sentence of 15 years. Pride's attorneys tried to discredit Tejada as a liar and criminal eager to save his own skin and pin the crime on others.
The pistol jammed after the first shot because the casing, usually ejected to make room for the next bullet, got stuck inside. Police said had the gun not jammed, the damage could have been much worse.
The case against Michael Velez, accused of driving the getaway car, is still being heard.
Santos and Morales will be tried later.
Figoski's killing was the first fatal shooting of a police officer since 2007, when Russel Timoshenko was shot during a routine traffic stop. Other officers have died on the job since then but were not shot and killed.
Lynch said the jury failed to do its job and was sending a bad message to a police department tasked with protecting the public.
"There's a moral pact with police officers, that if you kill a New York City police officer, you will put them away forever," he said. "Practically speaking that may well happen, but this jury should not have settled."