Earlier month, attorneys for ex-NYPD cop Peter Liang, who, in February, was found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, filed a motion arguing that Juror No. 9, Michael Vargas, should not have been allowed on the panel. His estranged father, it turns out, served time for manslaughter. Vargas also made a number of anti-cop comments on Facebook.
During jury selection, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun asked all the potential jurors if they, or anyone close to them, had ever been accused of a crime.
When it was Vargas’ turn to respond, he said, “Probably yes, but none that ... none that made the papers, I don’t think.”
After a brief back-and-forth, Chun elaborated, saying, “I’m talking about close family or yourself.”
“No, no,” Vargas responded.
As a child, Vargas was not aware that his estranged father was in prison and was told by relatives that he was in the Army.
But during jury selection for another trial, before a different judge, Vargas gave a very different answer: “My father was arrested. I was a young child. I never knew the truth because I guess they tried to hide it from me, but I think it was manslaughter.”
The comments Vargas made on Facebook, meanwhile, were known to the judge and defense attorneys. “Every time police kill an innocent person, it brings the country one step closer to a revolution,” Vargas wrote in September 2014. “Are the police a legal gang,” he asked in the comments on a video.
At a hearing in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Wednesday, Liang’s attorney, Paul Shechtman, pressed Vargas on whether he’d been deceitful about his father’s conviction in order to get onto the jury in a police-shooting trial. From the New York Times:
How, he asked, was it possible that someone in the juror’s “family” had been arrested but that none of his “close relatives” had suffered the same fate?
“I was never close to my father,” Mr. Vargas said, adding that he had been raised in a series of orphanages and boys’ homes.
“So you lied,” Mr. Shechtman said.
“That’s your opinion,” Mr. Vargas answered. “I don’t believe I did.”
“Didn’t you think it was important to tell the court you had these feelings?” Shechtman asked, referring to the comments on Facebook.
“If someone does something that makes me angry, I speak out,” Vargas said. “That’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it.” He added: “I don’t think that’s relevant to the case. I don’t remember what I posted two years ago.”
The hearing will continue Thursday.