March 8, 2005

It's a mistrial

Jury is unable to vote unanimously to convict cop who fatally shot craftsman in a Chelsea storage facility

BY KAREN FREIFELD STAFF WRITER; Staff writer Sean Gardiner and freelance writer Jerome Burdi contributed to this story.

A mistrial was declared yesterday in the manslaughter trial of a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African craftsman in a Chelsea storage facility - with 10 jurors voting to convict and two holding out for acquittal, according to jurors. The final deadlock came during the sixth day of deliberations in the case against Officer Bryan Conroy for the allegedly reckless killing of Ousmane Zongo, 43, who worked out of Chelsea Mini-storage repairing art objects. Conroy, 26, who was at the storage facility on May 22, 2003, after executing a search warrant for counterfeit compact discs, claimed the shooting was justified because Zongo lunged for his gun and because the two got into a life-and-death struggle for the weapon after the officer had pursued Zongo. According to two jurors who spoke out after the mistrial, none of the 12 believed Zongo tried to grab Conroy's gun, and most didn't buy that there was a struggle during their second, fatal encounter. "Most of us came to our own conclusion that it just didn't add up," said one of the 10 jurors who voted to convict and who did not want to be identified. "My sticking point - and I tried my best to find a way for Conroy to be innocent - was that he never lost control of his gun ... You still have your gun; why are you shooting someone who doesn't have a weapon?" The two holdouts against conviction thought there was reasonable doubt, the jurors said. About noon yesterday, the jury sent a note to State Supreme Court Justice Daniel FitzGerald, saying it could not reach a unanimous verdict. "We have thoroughly examined the facts and the charges and no further deliberations will resolve our differences," the note said. The jury had sent out a similar note Friday, but the judge had them return and continue their discussions yesterday. "Obviously, the people failed to prove their burden," Stuart London, Conroy's lawyer, said in response to the mistrial. Patrick Lynch of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association added that "people should understand police officers don't get up in the morning looking to take a life. Difficult things happen." No one witnessed the shooting, so Conroy's testimony to the grand jury - which was read to the jury - became the centerpiece of the case. The officer did not testify at the trial. Although jurors did not find Conroy's story credible, one said the jury did not think ill of him. "We felt he made a mistake," the juror said. "The majority of us thought he made an error in judgment. We feel on that day he acted unreasonably in causing the death of Mr. Zongo. To a person, we feel bad for him. We think he feels bad about it." Ilissa Zongo, one of the dead man's brothers who traveled from Burkina Faso to attend the trial, said through a translator that he "has no doubt that one day they will get justice." Salimata Sanfo, 28, Zongo's widow, said she was disturbed to hear Conroy having to go through such trials while his wife is pregnant. "She [Sanfo] doesn't have a husband, and her children don't have a father," an interpreter said. The parties are due back in court April 7, when a new trial date is expected to be set.