New York Daily News


Zongo mistrial

Panel was deadlocked 10-2 to convict cop

BY HELEN PETERSON, BARBARA ROSS and BILL HUTCHINSON
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

The jury of seven women and five men were split 10-2 in favor of finding Officer Bryan Conroy guilty when they announced yesterday they had exhausted any chance of breaking their deadlock.

One juror said they all agreed Conroy, 28, lied to the grand jury that indicted him when he said the fatal encounter in a Chelsea storage facility was sparked by Ousmane Zongo lunging for his gun.

"All 12 of us agreed that the first encounter didn't happen," said the male juror, who requested anonymity. "We knew he [Conroy] was lying. ... You're not supposed to lie to a grand jury. If you don't believe that, then how can you believe anything else?"

"The majority of us thought [Conroy] made an error," said a second juror, who also voted to convict. "To a person, we feel bad for him. We think he feels bad about it. He's just a kid."

Shortly after Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Daniel FitzGerald declared a mistrial yesterday, prosecutors vowed to retry Conroy, who did not testify during his two-week trial.

Conroy's attorney argued that after a chase through the labyrinthine warehouse, the plainclothes cop shot Zongo four times during a struggle over the gun.

Ten of the jurors agreed with prosecutors that Conroy needlessly caused Zongo's death.

But the two holdouts said there was not enough evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt the shooting was unjustified, the two jurors who spoke to the Daily News said.

Conroy was dressed as a mailman when the May 22, 2003, shooting happened at the Chelsea Mini Storage on W. 27th St.

He was guarding a locker full of bootleg CDs when he spotted Zongo, 43, who worked repairing African artifacts out of nearby locker.

"The evidence of the bullet impact marks doesn't add up to self-defense," the first juror said. "Bullets were all over the place. Even if we believe you for the first two bullets, how did this man get shot in the back?"

The jury deliberated for 27-1/2 hours over six days, before passing a note to FitzGerald saying, "No further deliberations will resolve our differences."

Outside the courthouse, protesters shouted "No justice! No peace!" and jeered Conroy as a "killer cop" for gunning down the unarmed Zongo, a father of two from Burkina Faso.

But Zongo's widow and two brothers, who came from Africa, said they haven't given up hope.

"We have no doubt that one day we will have justice," the victim's younger brother, Ilissa Zongo, said through an interpreter.

The family is still pursuing a $150 million wrongful death suit against the city.

Zongo's wife, Salimata Sanfo, 28, tearfully vowed to return for the next trial and thanked "all New Yorkers for the great effort you put into the case."

Conroy, the first city cop to go on trial since four officers were acquitted for the 1999 fatal shooting of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo, was ordered back to court on April 7, when a new trial date will be set.

Lawyers for both sides talked to jurors after the mistrial, fueling talk Conroy may decide to seek a plea deal, given he was so close to being convicted.

"It's absolutely not true," Al O'Leary, spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said about the possibility of Conroy striking a plea bargain.

Conroy left the court without commenting. His attorney Stuart London said, "Officer Conroy is very remorseful for what occurred in this case," but insisted his actions were justified.

PBA President Patrick Lynch added, "This police officer had to do what no police officer wants to do."

With Nicole Bode, Kerry Burke and Ethan Sack