Mistrial declared in NYPD shooting case

/ Source: The Associated Press

A mistrial was declared Monday at the manslaughter trial of an undercover police officer who shot an unarmed man in a warehouse hallway.

The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, Justice Daniel FitzGerald said, reading a note from the panel.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said the case will be retried.

Officer Brian Conroy was tried for the May 22, 2003, killing of Ousmane Zongo, an art restorer who worked in the building where the shooting occurred. Conroy, 25, would have faced up to 15 years in prison if he had been convicted.

Zongo’s wife, Salimata Sanfo, said through an interpreter she was confident justice will be served. She said she has no ill feelings toward police in general, only against Conroy because “he is a killer.”

Conroy’s lawyer, Stuart London, said it was unfortunate the jury did not reach a unanimous decision, but it was also clear the prosecution did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Assailant’s testimony crucial
With no eyewitnesses and scant physical evidence, Conroy’s grand jury account of the fatal encounter — where he testified that Zongo twice tried to seize his gun — became the most important evidence.

Conroy said he first saw Zongo while guarding counterfeit CDs that police had seized on the third floor of Chelsea Mini-Storage. Zongo, a native of Burkina Faso who spoke little English, worked on that floor repairing African artifacts.

When Zongo stepped into the main corridor to turn on a light, Conroy — disguised in a postal uniform — drew his gun and pointed it at him.

The officer, who said his police badge was pinned to his shirt front, said Zongo walked toward him, head and arms down with palms outward, before trying to grab his gun. Then Zongo turned and fled, with Conroy in pursuit.

Prosecution discounts ‘zombie walk’ account
Assistant District Attorney Armad Durastanti ridiculed Conroy’s version of events as a “zombie walk” tale that could not have happened.

“Mr. Zongo was not armed,” Durastanti said. “He was not involved in any criminal activity. He was not a threat to Conroy or to anyone else.”

London had argued Conroy fired only after Zongo tried to disarm him in “a life and death struggle.”

Durastanti told the jury there were no powder burns indicating close shots, nor any trace hair or fiber evidence indicating the two had struggled with each other.

Zongo, 43 and a married father, was shot four times in the back, neck and arm. Members of his family have filed a $150 million federal lawsuit against the city and Conroy, alleging the officer violated the victim’s civil rights.