Gun Tests and Tears at Officer Peter Liang’s Trial in Killing of Akai Gurley

The 9-millimeter handgun used by Police Officer Peter Liang on the night of a fatal shooting at a housing project in Brooklyn in 2014. Credit Bryan R. Smith for The New York Times
The 9-millimeter handgun used by Police Officer Peter Liang on the night of a fatal shooting at a housing project in Brooklyn in 2014. Credit Bryan R. Smith for The New York Times

One by one, the jurors held the Glock 9-millimeter pistol that had belonged to Police Officer Peter Liang, from which a bullet ricocheted down a housing project stairwell and killed an unarmed man in November 2014. 

In turn, each juror aimed the gun at the back wall of the courtroom and squeezed the trigger. Each click was audible. In the audience, some started in their seats.

The dramatic demonstration took place at State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, the second week of the trial of Officer Liang, who faces manslaughter and other charges in the death of Akai Gurley, 28. A bullet from the officer’s gun pierced Mr. Gurley’s heart in a stairwell at the Louis H. Pink Houses in the East New York section of Brooklyn.

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Earlier on Tuesday, Melissa Butler, who was with Mr. Gurley on the staircase, described her attempts to revive him on the landing.

“I leaned over him in a puddle of blood and urine,” an emotional Ms. Butler said. “I was telling him to stay with me, I am getting him help. It was a soft voice.”

Officer Liang’s gun fired into the stairwell as he opened the door of the eighth floor staircase. Firearms experts who have previously testified described modifications made to police guns that increase the amount of pressure required to discharge a bullet. The jurors who elected to pull the trigger for themselves appeared to be testing just how much force needed to be applied for the gun to fire.

Ms. Butler, who described Mr. Gurley as her boyfriend, said she met Mr. Gurley at a shop near the Pink Houses in 2011, when he offered to pay for her purchases and she refused. They spent the evening of his death at her family’s apartment, on the seventh floor of 2724 Linden Boulevard, with her parents, her two sisters, her niece and her daughter. Ms. Butler played with Mr. Gurley and plaited his cornrows, she said. As Ms. Butler spoke, Kimberly Ballinger, with whom Mr. Gurley had lived in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn and with whom he was raising two children, looked away.

Marc Fliedner, an assistant prosecutor in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, has focused on the fact that Officer Liang did not help Mr. Gurley and did not perform CPR, as is required of a police officer, arguing he was negligent in his duties. Only Ms. Butler tried to resuscitate Mr. Gurley, guided by a neighbor she had summoned, Melissa Lopez. Ms. Lopez relayed instructions from a 911 operator. Rae Downes Koshetz, a lawyer for Officer Liang, has said he was in shock and unable to render aid.

On Tuesday, the recording of the 911 call was played for the second time during the trial. As Ms. Butler heard her own voice and recounted pressing on her boyfriend’s chest and blowing in his mouth, her face began to crumble. A video was shown of Mr. Gurley’s bloodied clothes crumpled on the fifth floor landing.

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Source: The New York Times | SARAH MASLIN NIR

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