By COLLEEN LONG
NEW YORK - On a cold night late in 2011, prosecutors say, five men plotted a robbery, thinking it would be an easy score.
They had the target, a home of small-time drug dealer in Brooklyn; the getaway car, a beat-up Nissan sedan; and the gun, an illegal, semi-automatic pistol loaded with a 10-round magazine.
But when they began to act on their plan, it went badly wrong. And moments later, a New York City police officer was dead from a gunshot wound to his head.
Now, two of the suspects are on trial for murder in what city officials say is another example of illegal weapons funneled into New York being used for unnecessary violence. The men have pleaded not guilty and say the death of Officer Peter Figoski was a tragic accident.
"The vast majority of shootings we have in the streets of this city are handguns, illegal handguns," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said this week, arguing that strengthening laws on who can buy guns could have some impact in stemming the flow of illegal weapons.
The gun, a silver 9mm Ruger pistol, made what's become a familiar trip north for such weapons from a state with more lax gun laws. It ended up in the hands of the man accused of shooting Figoski on Dec. 12, 2011. In New York, about 85 percent of all illegal guns come into the city from out of state, authorities say.
According to trace data, the gun was never reported stolen. It was sold legally on Dec. 9, 1999, by a pawn shop inside Dance's Sporting Goods in Colonial Heights, Va.
The buyer, who lives in Florida and once lived in New York, told authorities he lost track of the gun during an eviction from his Virginia apartment. He said he boxed up the belongings, including the gun, and never returned for them. He didn't return a call seeking comment.
Prosecutors say exactly how suspect Lamont Pride came into possession of the gun will be discussed as the trial goes on. Pride, from Greensboro, N.C., had been wanted there in a non-fatal shooting.
"Who knows how many crimes were committed with that gun?" said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the department's largest union.
Details of the defendants' ill-fated plan vary, depending on who is telling the story. According to court papers, all five agree on a few details: They went to rob the pot dealer who lived in a basement apartment in a building belonging to one suspect's uncle. Some implicate one another in the crime in some way, either by blaming it all on Pride, or by saying they went to the home but did not participate.
Prosecutors gave this account: Kevin Morales came up with the plan. Michael Velez drove the getaway car. Pride brought the weapon. As they prepared to go inside the dingy, barely finished apartment, Pride racked the pistol so a bullet was ready in the chamber.
At that point, "the gun is ready to be fired, and all you need to do is pull the trigger," said Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Taub.
Velez, 22, stayed in the getaway car. Inside, authorities said, the other four ransacked the place and pistol-whipped the tenant.
"Where's the money? Where's the drugs?" they yelled, in English and Spanish, according to prosecutors.
When the owner upstairs, who was Morales' uncle, called 911 to report a commotion, Santos and Pride, 28, hid in a boiler room as Tejada and Morales pretended they too were victims, authorities said.
Figoski and his partner arrived as backup just as Santos and Pride tried to slip out the door. Pride came face-to-face with Figoski and shot him once, authorities said.
Figoski's partner chased Pride on foot and captured him blocks away, but not before Pride tossed the gun under a car, Taub said. Figoski died later at a hospital.
The men were charged with murder and robbery. Tejada has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the others in exchange for a reduced sentence of 18 years, Taub said. Santos and Morales will be tried later.
Velez's attorney said his client had no idea what was going on inside the apartment and wasn't part of the plan. He was just giving them a ride.
The trial for Pride and Velez continues next week. Their attorneys have described the shooting as a tragic accident. Chris Wright, the attorney for Pride, said his client didn't intend to kill Figoski.