NEW YORK — A New York City street gang member was sentenced to death on Wednesday in the execution-style slayings of two undercover police officers in 2003 – the latest chapter in a case that's seen his original death sentence overturned, his behind-bars affair with a prison guard exposed and the massive cost of his defense questioned.
It took a jury only about five hours to reach the decision in federal court in Brooklyn in the case against Ronell Wilson.
Wilson, 31, leaned forward on the defense table with his hands clasped as the sentence was announced in court, but showed no emotion. Several of his family members could be heard weeping in the gallery.
On a verdict form, the 12 jurors indicated that only two believed Wilson's contention that he didn't know his victims were police officers. There also were only two who agreed that the defendant could be spared because his life "has value," but ultimately joined in the unanimous decision on his sentence.
Outside court, the widow of one of the officers was in tears as police union officials praised the outcome. She declined to speak to reporters.
"Today, a jury of his peers looked at Ronell Wilson, everything he did and all that he is, and rendered justice," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
Another jury had found Wilson guilty in the point-blank shootings of undercover officers James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews. The gunman shot both men in the head after one pleaded for his life.
The first jury also sentenced Wilson in 2007 to die by lethal injection, making him the first federal defendant to receive a death sentence in New York City since the 1950s. But an appeals court threw out the sentence in 2010 because of an error in jury instructions and prosecutors chose to repeat the penalty phase rather than let Wilson serve an automatic life term without parole.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis questioned the decision, saying that it put taxpayers on course to spend millions of dollars more on Wilson's defense. He noted that he had just presided over a capital case for a mobster where the defense bill was $5 million and the jury chose to impose a life sentence.
Officials revealed in February that, after being transferred from federal death row in Indiana to a Brooklyn lockup to await the proceedings, Wilson fathered a child with a jail guard. She's since pleaded guilty to an illegal sex act.
The new set of jurors, though not deciding Wilson's guilt, once again heard about how the victims were posing as illegal gun buyers. The pair met with Wilson – known then by the nickname "Rated R" for what they thought was a deal to buy a Tec-9 submachine gun. But Wilson decided to rob them instead and ended up shooting them.
Prosecutors cited a scrap of paper Wilson was carrying when he was arrested as proof he was a cold-blooded killer. It had the rap lyrics saying that if he was ever crossed, he would put "45 slogs in da back of ya head" and "ain't goin stop to Im dead."
The government also argued that Wilson's conduct behind bars, including having sex with the jail guard and threatening a gay inmate, made him a bad candidate for a life term.
In asking to spare his life, Wilson "wants you to use your humanity," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Celia Cohen said in closing arguments. "He has shown through his actions that he has absolutely no humanity."
The defense conceded Wilson had committed a horrible crime. Wilson's lawyers instead sought to focus jurors on his background as the product of a crack-addicted mother living with a dozen relatives crammed into an apartment at a crime-infested housing project.
Defense attorney David Stern argued that a life sentence was sufficient punishment for a "limited" and "impulsive" defendant who was never taught right from wrong.
"One day he'll die wearing the same khaki clothes he's worn for 20 or 30 or 40 years," Stern said. "Very few people will know or care."
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"I Am Not Guilty - Thus Lizzie Borden Pleads Before Judge Hammond at New Bedford." -Boston Journal
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In a case of mother-gone-mad that startled a nation, Andrea Yates, to her few friends and neighbors, was known as a mere recluse suffering from postpartum depression leading up to the birth of her fifth child. That all changed on June 20, 2001, when she snapped, drowning five of her children in their home's bathtub. She was convicted in 2002 of capital murder, carrying a sentence of life in prison with possible parole. As of July 2006, however, a Texas jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity.
"Buttafuoco Admits to Sex with Amy Fisher" -New York Times
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"Murder of a Little Beauty" -People Magazine
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Tattooed with "Born to Raise Hell" on his arm, Richard Speck made good on his mantra through a history of violence, theft, alcoholism, and spousal abuse, but made his infamy known to all when, on July 13, 1966, he walked into a dormitory armed with a knife. After leaving 8 student nurses dead in his wake, only one, Cora Amurao, was spared--hiding under a bed until 6 a.m. Speck was found guilty of murder and died of a heart attack in prison. As one of the most press-worthy crimes of the decade, the grim events were used most recently as the backdrop for an episode of <em>Mad Men</em>.
"Sharon Tate, Four Others Murdered" -Los Angeles Times
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Used as the basis for an Agatha Christie novel (<em>Murder on the Orient Express</em>) and dubbed "the biggest story since the Resurrection" by famed journalist H.L. Mencken, the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son continues to fascinate theorists today. Charles Jr. was discovered missing from his second-floor bedroom on March 1, 1932, along with a note demanding a then-unimaginable $50,000, igniting a media frenzy like no other. The tabloid pandemonium prompted many tips and leads, but none as concrete as a package containing the boy's pajamas and another message demanding the ransom. After some misdirection from the presumed kidnapper, Lindbergh's child was soon after discovered in the woods along a road near the family residence. Notwithstanding the evidence stockpiled against the easily vilified illegal German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann (who was sentenced), speculation prevails as to the true identity of the caper responsible in this tragic tale of one of America's greatest heroes.
"Not Guilty as Sin" -NY Post
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"An American Tragedy" -TIME
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