Convicted cop killer, sentenced to death, seeks new trial
After a second jury hands-down death penalty sentence, Ronell Wilson is seeking a new trial, citing prosecutors’ “improper and harmful arguments” at trial.
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. He was sentenced to death for the murders, the first time in New York that a federal defendant was sentenced to death since 1954.
The 2007 death sentence, but not the conviction, was thrown out due to prosecutorial error.
Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis presided over the new trial and rejected Wilson’s argument that he was unfit for the death penalty due to 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.
After eight weeks of jury selection and even more weeks of trial, a second jury returned the death verdict on July 24.
“A death sentence cannot stand if ‘imposed under the influence of passion [or] prejudice’,” Wilson’s attorneys stated in their motion to the court to request a new sentencing trial. In the most recent sentencing trial, Wilson’s attorneys claim, the prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence to support a sentence of death as opposed to a term of life imprisonment.
The jury was charged with determining whether or not Wilson “represents a continuing danger…or likely to commit criminal acts of violence in the future,” evidence of which the prosecution lacked, Wilson’s attorneys argued.
Wilson’s attorneys admit that Wilson may have shown a “continuing pattern of violence” including robberies, weapons possession and even assault. But, the argument goes, these crimes were committed when Wilson was out of jail and unsupervised. Wilson has not been involved in any violent activity in New York’s “free-wheeling” Rikers Island jail, Wilson’s attorneys asserted. Wilson may have “acted like a bully” while in prison, “made some threatening remarks” and broken a visiting booth window with a chair, but he has not committed any acts of violence.
Wilson’s non-violent behavior in prison therefore demonstrates, Wilson’s attorneys argue, that at least under prison supervision, there is no proof or indication that Wilson will likely commit an act of violence.
“The defendant’s argument is without merit,” the prosecution charged in its opposition. Given Wilson’s “criminal background, which started at the age of 11, the evidence of Wilson’s future dangerousness is “overwhelming,” the prosecution asserted.
While Wilson may not have committed any outright violent acts, the jury inferred that Wilson remained in seemingly good behavior because of a likely death sentence hanging over his head, the prosecution continued. If he were to escape a death sentence, Wilson would have “no incentive to behave” and thus “represents a continuing danger to the lives and safety of others.”
The defense also asserted that the prosecution’s misconduct during closing arguments denied Wilson his right to a fair trial. The prosecution “misstated evidence” when discussing the time that elapsed between the death of the two detectives killed at Wilson’s hand, the defense argued.
The image of one detective “pleading for his life for an extended period of time” was an inaccurate portrayal of events, which, the defense contended, “constituted ‘a very powerful argument’ for the death penalty.”
The prosecution “admit[ed] that this was an inadvertent error” and that the “government mistakenly stated” the time between killings, but asserted that their mistake did not prejudice Wilson enough to warrant a new trial.
According to the New York Law Journal, Judge Garaufis has said that if he does not grant Wilson a penalty retrial he will sentence him Sept. 10.
Wilson is represented by the Manhattan law firm of Rothman, Schneider Soloway & Stern. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Celia Cohen and James McGovern appeared for the prosecution.
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