Death penalty sentencing trial begins for Brooklyn defendant
The trial United States v. Ronell Wilson began Monday in the courtroom of Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis. Wilson was convicted in 2006 of murdering two New York City Police Department undercover detectives during a firearms transaction in Staten Island — and more recently accused of getting a prison guard pregnant —and sentenced to death for the murders.
The 2007 death sentence, but not the conviction, was thrown out due to prosecutorial error. In December 2012, a special hearing was held to determine whether or not, as Wilson’s attorney asserted, Wilson suffered from a mental illness and therefore was not fit to sit for a death penalty proceeding. The United States Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to execute those who are not mentally able to understand their punishment and Wilson’s attorney stated this his intellectual impairment was the result of a childhood of deprivation and neglect — with a drug-addicted mother who was largely absent from their broken home.
Garaufis did not agree with the charge of Wilson’s supposed mental retardation. The judge cited testing over the years that nearly always found that Wilson had an IQ higher than 70 — considered a benchmark for mental disability.
The resentencing trial is expected to last for five weeks. The government again seeks the death penalty and is expected to introduce evidence of Wilson’s lack of remorse towards his killing of the two detectives. Garaufis ruled last week that evidence may be presented showing “that the defendant stuck his tongue out at the victims’ family members after the death penalty verdicts were read aloud in court.” The victims’ widows will also testify that they took Wilson’s action to be “intentional and patently offensive.”
For Garaufis, Wilson’s actions, after being sentenced to death, the most severe penalty, demonstrated a disregard for his sentence and as such a “reasonable jury could infer that [Wilson] is more likely to commit serious acts of violence in the future because he would not sufficiently consider any possible punishment before acting.”
Wilson’s 2007 death sentence was the first time in New York that a federal defendant was sentenced to death since 1954.
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