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NY policeman convicted of criminally negligent homicide

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- Police Officer Bryan Conroy was convicted of criminally negligent homicide on Friday in the shooting of unarmed African immigrant Ousamane Zongo at a Manhattan warehouse.

He was acquitted of manslaughter.

The verdict was issued by State Supreme Court Justice Robert Strauss, who heard the case without a jury. Conroy's first trial ended in a mistrial.

In his opening statement, defense lawyer Stuart London declared that Conroy had shot Zongo on May 22, 2003, because the victim acted "unreasonably and irrationally" by trying to seize the officer's gun during a confrontation in a hallway of a vast warehouse.

The lawyer said Conroy feared his life was in danger when Zongo came at him, refusing his shouted orders of "Police, don't move!"

But Assistant District Attorney Armand Durastanti told Strauss that the officer had "recklessly engaged in conduct that led to the death of Mr. Zongo ... that was not justified" by the situation.

The shooting occurred during a police raid on the warehouse in which two suspected DVD and CD counterfeiters were arrested. Zongo was not connected to that case.

Zongo, an immigrant from the West African country of Burkina Faso, worked at the warehouse repairing African art objects that had been damaged in shipment.

Conroy was a member of a police task force conducting the undercover raid and was wearing a postal service uniform with a police badge pinned to his shirt and his service weapon tucked in his waistband.

Zongo was hit by four bullets from Conroy's 9 mm pistol and died in a hospital hours later.

The prosecutor said Conroy had failed to follow proper procedures and "inexplicably chose to challenge Mr. Zongo, not by showing him his badge but pulling out his 9-millimeter pistol and pointing it at Mr. Zongo."

London said Zongo's immigrant visa had expired and he may have feared he would be deported.

"Maybe he just panicked," London said.

According to Conroy's testimony at his first trial, Zongo came close to him in a threatening way that caused the officer to think he would grab for the gun. Conroy fired five shots, three hitting Zongo in the upper torso and one in the arm.

Conroy's first trial ended in March; jurors said they had deadlocked 10-2 for conviction. That vote was widely reported and Conroy's lawyers tried to move the retrial out of Manhattan, an effort rebuffed by an appeals court.

The retrial began Sept. 26.

A civil case, seeking damages for the alleged wrongful death of Zongo, had been put on hold during the criminal trial. It will now go forward in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, according to Sanford Rubenstein, attorney for the Zongo family.

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