Newsday
July 9, 2010

Protest Overturned Death Sentence for Cop-Killer

Panel Cites Prosecution Violations

By MARK TOOR

Police unions and the NYPD reacted with fury June 30 after a three-judge Federal appeals panel overturned a death sentence for a man who murdered two Detectives in an execution-style shooting during a gun sting, and sent his case back to the trial court for a new penalty hearing.

“It’s going to take a miracle to recreate a death sentence,” said Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association.

Det. Maryann Andrews, widow of one of the slain Detectives, Rodney Andrews, stood silently at Mr. Palladino’s side during a press conference a few hours after the decision. She was unable to speak, but the anguished look on her face said volumes. When asked if she wanted to say anything, she sadly shook her head and teared up. She left the room soon after.

Detectives Left 5 Children

Mr. Wilson was convicted in 2007 of shooting Mr. Andrews, 34, and his partner, Det. James Nemorin, 36, in the back of the head on the evening of March 10, 2003 as they sat in the front of a car on a dead-end street in Staten Island. It was never clear whether Mr. Wilson knew the two were police officers or was just trying to rob them of the $1,200 they had brought to buy a Tech-9 submachine gun.

Between them, the Detectives left five children, all under 13. Mr. Wilson was the first person in New York State to receive a Federal death sentence since Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of espionage in 1951.

But the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that prosecutors had violated Mr. Wilson’s constitutional rights and sent the case back to U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

“We’re very shocked and disappointed in the court’s decision,” Mr. Palladino said. “. . . The families thought this case was behind them.” He said he had talked to Detective Nemorin’s widow, Rose, who told him that “instead of moving forward she felt just as she felt on March 10, 2003.”

“Ronell Wilson earned himself the death penalty with the cold-blooded execution of two courageous detectives who risked and lost their lives fighting to make this city safer,” said Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch. “. . . This vile individual should not be spared because of a mere technicality. He is a cold-blooded killer who deserves the fate that he has brought on himself.”

‘An Attack on Society Itself’

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly believes that “the murder of a police officer is an attack on society itself and should be punished with the death penalty,” said the NYPD’s chief spokesman, Paul Browne.

The appeals court panel’s decision was based on prosecutors’ representations about Mr. Wilson’s supposed lack of remorse. The prosecutors argued that in going to trial rather than pleading guilty, he was refusing to take responsibility for the murders. And they said that because he had declined to testify, the jury should ignore a letter he read in court saying “I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused” the Detectives’ families.

An Isolated Look

One of the prosecutors, Morris J. Fodeman, told The New York Times that the decision focused on comments made during the last five minutes of a five-month trial.

Mr. Wilson read his letter during a penalty hearing, which immediately followed his trial, that made much of his chaotic, violent childhood, including that fact that he sucked his thumb until he was 15. His sister testified that his older brother called him “Spesh, like special ed.”

“If they had the power to empanel the same jury again I know they would get the death penalty again,” Mr. Palladino said. A new panel will not have the opportunity to see the evidence brought up during the trial itself or “the ruthless demeanor Wilson exhibited.” As he was led away following sentencing, Mr. Wilson turned to the slain Detectives’ wives and stuck out his tongue.

Mr. Palladino said he worried that the court’s decision was not a matter of law, but “subjective,” because of the split decision. “Years later a panel of three judges simply reading a transcript and pinpointing a few words the prosecutors stated. . . they’re going to change the decision of a jury,” he said.

Jury ‘Saw Him in Action’

It was not the prosecutor’s words that convinced the jury, he said, it was hearing the witnesses and the evidence “and seeing Ronnel Wilson at his best.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said June 30 it was considering how to respond. Mr. Palladino said prosecutors were discussing appeals to the full panel of Judges on the Court of Appeals or to the U.S. Supreme Court.