A man accused of firing the shot that killed a New York City police officer during a robbery gone wrong was found guilty of second-degree murder on Monday but acquitted of the most serious charge, alleging he intentionally killed the officer.
Lamont Pride also was found guilty of burglary and second-degree aggravated manslaughter. He could face at least 25 years to life in prison.
When the verdict was read, officers who packed the courtroom gasped. The slain officer’s mother covered her mouth in shock.
“For Lamont, this was the best-case scenario,” said defense attorney James Koenig, adding that he was glad the jury concluded that his client didn’t mean to kill the officer. But “this was not a victory for anyone. It’s a tragedy all around.”
Pride and four others were accused of plotting to rob a drug dealer who lived in a shabby basement apartment in Brooklyn on Dec. 12, 2011. Suspect Nelson Morales picked out the spot — his uncle’s building, and he said he was in on it, according to suspect Ariel Tejada, who testified against Pride in court.
But the uncle didn’t know, and he called police when he heard a commotion in the basement. As officers arrived, Morales and Tejada pretended to be victims while Pride and another man, Kevin Santos, hid in a boiler room near the only exit, according to trial testimony.
Pride had a loaded 9mm semiautomatic pistol racked and ready to go, and fired once at Officer Peter Figoski, prosecutors said. Figoski was hit in the face and later died at a hospital.
Pride raced down the street and dumped the gun under a parked car before he was arrested by police. In videotaped statements to authorities, he is seen trying to explain that the gun just went off, that he didn’t intentionally shoot anyone.
“I never took the hand off the trigger,” he said in his videotaped statement. “That was my mistake.”
He said another person had the gun and he grabbed it from him because he was worried he was going to get shot. As he was trying to escape with the gun, he tripped on the stairs going out, as Figoski was coming in.
When he hit the ground, the gun went off. “BOOM!” he said, as he lay on the floor of the precinct in the video to show officers and Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Taub how he fell.
Tejada agreed to testify against the others for a reduced sentence of 15 years. Pride’s attorneys tried to discredit Tejada as a liar and criminal eager to save his own skin and pin the crime on others.
They have described the shooting as a tragic accident. They said their client didn’t intend to kill Figoski.
“Responsibility is not intent,” Koenig told the jury during his closing argument. “Like an idiot who should not have a gun in his hand, he had his finger on the trigger.”
But the pistol jammed after the first shot because the casing, usually ejected to make room for the next bullet, got stuck inside. Police said had the gun not jammed, the damage could have been much worse.
The case against Michael Velez, accused of driving the getaway car, is still being heard.
Santos and Morales will be tried later.
Figoski’s killing was the first fatal shooting of a police officer since 2007, when Russel Timoshenko was shot during a routine traffic stop. Other officers have died on the job since then but were not shot and killed.