DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Imagine picking up and holding a cop's semiautomatic handgun and pulling the trigger. That scenario was very real in New York Supreme Court on Tuesday in the trial of NYPD Officer Peter Liang.
Liang allegedly shot and killed Akai Gurley, 28, in November 2014, but insists it was accidental. Prosecutors, however, are trying him on manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and other charges.
The case had to be temporarily stopped when Gurley's girlfriend, a witness to his death, could not stop weeping from the witness stand.
Liang's service weapon was handled in court Tuesday, in a move that was called unprecedented. Seasoned veteran court staff told PIX11 News that while they'd seen weapons entered as evidence in past cases, they'd never seen a semiautomatic pistol's trigger pulled again and again by jurors.
All 12 jurors, as well as three alternates, held the gun, one by one. Then 10 of the jurors took turns pulling the trigger of the sidearm, apparently trying to get some sense of whether the gun had gone off accidentally on that fateful day, or if Liang had some control over its firing.
The shooting happened in a darkened stairwell of the Louis Pink Houses, a public-housing complex in East New York. That's where Gurley was with his girlfriend, Melissa Butler, after they'd discovered that the elevator was out of order and needed to take the stairs.
Liang was startled to encounter Gurley in the stairwell, and his gun went off, his attorneys have claimed. They have also said that their client was so distraught over what had happened, he failed to offer CPR to Gurley, even though that's what NYPD officers are trained to do in situations like this.
To counter that contention, prosecutors played the 911 recording from the incident. The call was from the phone of a neighbor who lived next to the stairwell. Butler had banged on the neighbor's door for help. The call said, in part:
Neighbor: he said to put pressure on it--apply pressure on his chest--to not move him.
911 operator: Ma'am you said the cops are there?
Butler: He's not breathing!
Neighbor: He's not breathing.
Butler's tone is frantic in the background of the call. It was at that point in her testimony, when the recording was played on Tuesday, that Butler wept uncontrollably. Judge Danny Chun called a recess to allow her to compose herself.
She eventually pulled herself together and testified that she, rather than Liang, attempted to do CPR on her boyfriend, even though she had no experience doing so.
For their part, Liang's attorneys cross-examined NYPD tactics and firearms instructors in the courtroom on Tuesday in an effort to show that the gun went off accidentally.
At the end of the court day, Liang's partner and witness to the shooting, Shaun Landau, took the stand. He's expected to complete his testimony on Thursday, after a one-day, previously scheduled break in the trial.