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Rare NYS death penalty case may reach Brooklyn in 2013

Ronell Wilson, convicted cop killer. File photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The year 2013 will bring a number of new beginnings to Brooklyn. In Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 2 will open with courts for bocce, handball, and basketball. The Prospect Park Lakeside Project, to open in fall 2013, will possess two ice rinks. And in the Brooklyn courts, a rare death-penalty case may be heard. 

The case of Ronell Wilson, convicted cop killer, may come to the Federal District Court in Brooklyn in the new year.  Wilson was convicted in 2007 of the 2003 double murder of undercover NYPD Detectives Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin.   

A Brooklyn jury found Wilson 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.

Wilson’s attorneys appealed the decision, and the U.S. Court of Appeals threw out the sentence, but not the conviction due to prosecutorial error.  The prosecution, the court said, violated Wilson’s constitutional rights by telling the jury that Wilson’s decision to go to trial demonstrated his lack of remorse and refusal to accept responsibility.

A new jury was set to again decide whether or not Wilson would face death row.   The new trial was hit with a number of delays, primarily the issue of whether or not Wilson had the mental capacity to face a death penalty sentence.  

“We are concerned for his mental health, as he has no contact with his family and friends and no access to his legal materials so that his ability to assist his legal team is compromised,” one of the lawyers wrote in an Aug. 15 letter to the warden at a Brooklyn lockup.

This set the stage for Wilson’s mental health defense. The United States Supreme Court has long ago ruled that inmates who are mentally insane — or developmentally disabled — cannot be executed.  Wilson’s attorney’s asserted that Wilson is intellectually impaired following 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, an 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 prosecution’s findings.

Johns Hopkins neurologist Bruce Shapiro told Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas 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."

The issue is now in the hands of Hon. Garaufis, who will eventually rule on whether Wilson is mentally fit to face the death penalty. If the court finds Wilson mentally fit, he will face a new penalty phase trial this spring, where a new jury will decide if Wilson will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or be executed by lethal injection.

December 31, 2012 - 11:18am


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