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Inmate Mentally Fit for Death Penalty Sentencing

Convicted cop-killer Ronell Wilson. AP Photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

An inmate convicted in one of New York's most notorious police killings — and more recently accused of getting a prison guard pregnant — was declared mentally fit on Thursday for a death penalty proceeding.

In a written ruling Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis, rejected arguments by Ronell Wilson's lawyers that he should be automatically spared a death sentence on grounds he is mentally disabled.

"The court holds that Wilson is not mentally retarded and was not mentally retarded at the time of the crime," the judge said. "This does not mean he will receive — or deserves to receive — the death penalty, but only that any such penalty would not violate the Federal Death Penalty Act or the Eighth Amendment."

As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported earlier this year, in 2007, Wilson was convicted of the 2003 double murder of undercover NYPD Detectives Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin.   A Brooklyn jury found Wilson, 30, guilty of the murders, which stemmed from an illegal gun buy sting gone wrong, and sentenced Wilson to die by lethal injection; 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. Before a new jury could be assembled to decide whether or not Wilson would face death row, Wilson’s attorney asserted that he suffered from a mental illness and there for 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.

During a December 2012 special hearing to address the issue of Wilson’s mental capacity, expert witness for the prosecution, Dr. Raymond Patterson, found Wilson fit and sane enough to face the death penalty.

“[Wilson] said that if the judge finds that he was mentally retarded, he cannot face the death penalty,” Patterson said to validate his finding that Wilson was narcissistic and articulate. The defense however, presented a number of witnesses to refute the prosecutions findings. Johns Hopkins neurologist Bruce Shapiro, told Garaufis, that Wilson "was functionally illiterate and functionally innumerate.

"This young man could not work. He had significant limitations. He could not do many practical household activities," Shapiro said, noting that as a young man Wilson needed instruction on "how to clean himself and how to shop."

Garaufis did not agree.  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 decision in federal court in Brooklyn made no mention of the charges brought last week against a prison guard, accusing her of having an illegal affair with an inmate. The woman is eight months pregnant with a child that's believed to be Wilson's.

February 11, 2013 - 9:00am


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