Wall Street Journal
February 12, 2013

Officer's Murder Accidental, Jury Finds


A Brooklyn jury convicted a 28-year-old man on Monday of murdering a New York City police officer during the botched robbery of a drug dealer, but the decision dealt a blow to prosecutors who maintained the fatal shot was fired with the intention to kill.

That Lamont Pride shot Officer Peter Figoski in the head was never in dispute. The focus of the three-week trial had hinged on whether Mr. Pride, who has a lengthy criminal record, fired a 9mm handgun with the intent to murder a police officer, a crime that carries a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

After just less than 10 hours of deliberations over three days, the jury of 10 women and two men sided with Mr. Pride and his lawyers, who maintained their client fired the gun accidentally while fleeing a basement apartment of a Cypress Hills home in the early morning hours of Dec. 12, 2011.

The jury convicted Mr. Pride of burglary, aggravated manslaughter and second-degree murder, a lesser charge that carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. This means he could be up for parole in about 25 years, though it is rare for a person convicted of killing a police officer to earn release.

As the verdict was read inside Brooklyn Supreme Court, several of the dozens of city police officers who held vigil at the trial sighed and others hung their heads. Mr. Figoski's mother covered her mouth, while his four daughters were stoic.

"To say the least, we are disappointed and angry," said Patrick Lynch, president of the union that represents police officers. "'Beyond a reasonable doubt' does not mean throw common sense out the window.

"This puts a doubt in every police officer's mind," he said.

Mr. Pride's attorneys argued that his actions amounted to the reckless behavior of a man who acted "like an idiot." "For Lamont this [verdict] was the best-case scenario under the circumstances," defense attorney James Koenig said. "This was a tragedy all around."

Mr. Pride had said in a taped interview with police that he ran into the 47-year-old Mr. Figoski on a narrow stairway as he was fleeing, fell and accidentally fired the shot as he stood up. "I never took the hand off the trigger," he said during the taped confession. "That was my mistake."

Prosecutors argued Mr. Pride had every intention of firing the gun when he racked it before the robbery. He admitted that he knew there were officers outside and still fled with the weapon in his hand, finally ditching it under a parked car while he was being chased.

"I am submitting to you…that this was not an accidental shot, this was a deliberate shot," prosecutor Kenneth Taub told the jury in his closing argument. "If you are just trying to escape and your only intent is to get away, shoot him in the leg. He had to raise his gun."

Mr. Pride is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 28.

Mr. Figoski was the first NYPD officer killed in the line of duty by a gunman outside the department since 2007. An off-duty officer was mistakenly killed by friendly fire in 2009.

Authorities said Mr. Pride had five prior arrests in New York City and had been wanted on a warrant for aggravated assault with the intent to kill in North Carolina.

Mr. Pride was on trial with Michael Velez, 22, the alleged getaway driver and lookout man. Both were allegedly part of a five-man crew accused of concocting a plan to rob a known drug dealer that went bad when police were called by the homeowner.

The jury in Mr. Velez's murder trial is expected to begin deliberating Wednesday. Mr. Velez who has pleaded not guilty maintains he knew nothing of the robbery plan and took the stand in his own defense last week.

Two other suspects—Kevin Santos, 31, and Nelson Morales, 28, the alleged ringleader of the group—are scheduled to be tried for murder in March.

The fifth suspect, Ariel Tejada, 23, cut a deal with prosecutors to testify against his four cohorts in exchange for a guilty plea to murder and robbery. If Mr. Tejada testifies as agreed against the other four, the murder charge will be dropped in exchange for an 18-year prison sentence.