Akai Gurley shooting: Jury finds police officer guilty of manslaughter

By Lorenzo Ferrigno, Ray Sanchez and Lauren del Valle, CNN | 2/11/2016, 8:05 p.m.
Officer Peter Liang, who shot and killed an unarmed man in a New York housing project stairwell in 2014, was ...
Akai Gurley Facebook

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Officer Peter Liang, who shot and killed an unarmed man in a New York housing project stairwell in 2014, was found guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct on Thursday.

As the verdict was read, Liang dropped his head -- his hands around the back of his neck -- as one of his attorneys comforted him.

The highly unusual conviction of a police officer for the shooting death of a civilian means the rookie cop is automatically fired from the force.

Kimberly Ballinger, the partner of the victim, Akai Gurley, 28, dabbed tears and later pumped her fist in the air.

"He was a son. He was a brother‎," Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said after the verdict. "I told his mother, I'm sorry. There are no winners. This is a tragedy all over."

The jury's verdict came after 17 hours of deliberations. Sentencing will be April 14.

The seven men and five women of the jury reached their decision on their second full day of deliberations after requesting white boards and the NYPD's firearm and tactics guide.

On Thursday evening, about an hour before the verdict, the jury asked Justice Danny Chun to read them the charges and legal definitions, the second time this week.

The case went to the jury Tuesday, with the panel deliberating for an hour.

Chun Wednesday denied a defense request for a mistrial, saying Liang's legal team fell "way, way short" in arguing that the prosecution in closing arguments implied the officer intentionally shot Gurley.

Jurors asked that the testimony of Liang and other witnesses be read back. And they asked the judge to reread the charges and replay a 911 call, which brought some of Gurley's relatives to tears.

The jury also asked to handle Liang's firearm, a request the judge allowed with the assistance of an officer.

During closing arguments, the officer's lawyer called the fatal shooting tragic, but not a crime, stressing that Liang followed procedures. Police determined that Gurley was "a total innocent."

"What happened here is a tragedy," defense attorney Rae Koshetz said. "It's a terrible tragedy, but it's not a crime."

Prosecutor Joe Alexis argued that Liang showed poor judgment, again and again, and that the shooting wasn't an accident beyond the officer's control. He asked jurors to hold Liang accountable.

The trial has garnered attention beyond New York because of the national controversy over allegations that police are too quick to use lethal force, sometimes against unarmed people. Outrage over police shootings or excessive force has spurred protest movements in major cities such as Chicago, Baltimore and New York.

In the most well-known cases -- the fatal shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, and the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in Baltimore -- the victims were unarmed black men.

'An accidental discharge'

Gurley was shot in the chest in Brooklyn and died at a hospital in November 2014.