March 4, 2005

Jury in Zongo trial says it is deadlocked after 5th day of deliberations

By SAMUEL MAULL Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK -- A Manhattan jury said Friday it was deadlocked after five days of deliberations in the case of a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed West African artifacts restorer inside a West Side storage facility two years ago. The jury, which began deliberating Monday afternoon following a two-week trial in Manhattan's State Supreme Court, sent out a note shortly after 4 p.m. saying it was unable to decide the guilt or innocence of Police Officer Bryan Conroy. Conroy, 25, the first police officer charged with killing a civilian since the shooting of Amadou Diallo, is charged with second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Ousmane Zongo, 43, on May 22, 2003. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. After receiving the note, Justice Daniel FitzGerald seemed ready to give the jurors an "Allen charge," an admonition to return to the jury room and keep trying. But then he told them to stop deliberating and return at 10 a.m. Monday. "At the very least you'll get a break from the case and the tensions of it," FitzGerald said. "Try to enjoy your weekend, and relax." The deadlock note was the only one the jury sent out all day. It said, "After five days of deliberations, we have come to the point where we cannot reach a unanimous decision." It was signed by the forewoman. Conroy's lawyer, Stuart London, and the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Armand Durastanti, refused to speculate about why the jury was deadlocked. The only note the jurors sent out Thursday asked the judge to reread instructions about the circumstances in which a police officer is justified in using deadly force. Conroy's lawyer told the jury in closing arguments that his client killed Zongo in self-defense after the man tried twice to steal the officer's gun. Conroy was working undercover, guarding a bin of counterfeit CDs that had been seized by police, when he shot Zongo inside the Chelsea Mini-Storage facility on West 27th Street. Prosecutors say Conroy lied about the self-defense after he recklessly caused the death of Zongo, a native of Burkina Faso who spoke little English, by shooting him four times after a chase. Zongo died at a nearby hospital soon after being shot. Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said he believed the jury was taking its oath seriously and considering every relevant thing. "We at the PBA have said we believe this police officer was justified in his actions, and we still believe that," Lynch said. He refused to speculate about why the jury was deadlocked. Sanford Rubenstein, a lawyer for Zongo's family, said he had explained the justice system here to them so they would understand what outcomes were possible after trial. Rubenstein has filed a multimillion-dollar civil suit against the city and the Police Department on behalf of Zongo's family.