New York Post
June 30, 2010


Death penalty overturned in 2003 Staten Island cop killings

By BRUCE GOLDING and KIERAN CROWLEY

A vicious cop-killer sentenced to die for murdering two undercover NYPD detectives will get a second chance to plead for his life.

A federal appeals court today narrowly tossed out the capital punishment for Ronell Wilson in the execution-style slayings of Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin.

Wilson -- who brazenly stuck out his tongue at their families during his sentencing -- coldly shot the cops during a gun buy-and-bust operation on Staten Island in 2003.

READ THE COURT'S DECISION HERE

The court's decision immediately drew fire from Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who a spokesman said "believes that the murder of a police officer is an attack on society itself and should be punished with the death penalty."

"There were no circumstances to suggest otherwise in the murders of Detectives Andrews and Nemorin, which were beyond heinous, cold-blooded executions."

Nemorin's widow, Rose, tearfully described herself as "confused" and "kind of in shock" from behind the door of her Nassau County home.

"I'm shaking -- I can't believe it. I'm confused," she said before breaking down.

"It's like losing it again and again and again. We were supposed to go shopping but I stopped and came home. I'm just kind of in shock."

Rose Nemorin said she had yet to break the news to her kids.

PBA President Pat Lynch said 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."

"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.” In its 2-to-1 decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ordered a "penalty phase" retrial for Wilson on grounds that prosecutors violated his constitutional rights by attacking his claims of remorse during summations.

"These arguments were potent -- no juror found that Wilson accepted responsibility or showed remorse, and every juror found that Wilson presented a risk of future dangerousness," Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote for the majority.

"On these facts, it is hard to see how the government can prove that these errors were harmless. Indeed, the government’s emphasis on these arguments during summation suggests they were not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt."

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Debra Ann Livingston said it was "entirely proper" for the prosecution to question the credibility of Wilson's unsworn apology "because it came only when Wilson faced punishment for his crime."

"It is both natural and irresistible for a jury, in evaluating the sincerity of a statement of contrition, to note when it comes only at the point a defendant is seeking to avoid the maximum penalty and when it is utterly devoid of corroboration," she wrote.

A spokesman said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, whose office prosecuted Wilson, "will carefully review this decision and consider options."

Staten Island DA Dan Donovan, whose office handed over the case to the feds after New York's death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in 2004, said: "I have asked my Appeals Bureau to review the decision and to offer any assistance we can provide in this matter to the Justice Department, much as we have throughout this prosecution. ” Legal experts said a new jury would be impaneled if Lynch opts to seek the death penalty again, with the case unlikely to be heard for at least a year.

Prosecutors could also appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wilson, 28, was the first federal defendant sentenced to death in New York after Congress re-instated the death penalty in 1988, and he was set to be the first executed since Gerhard Puff was electrocuted in 1954 for murdering FBI Agent Joseph Brock during his arrest for bank robbery.

Before today's ruling, Wilson was among 59 inmates awaiting execution at the high-security federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

A spokesman there declined to say if Wilson had been transferred from death row.

Wilson's lawyers didn't immediately return calls for comment.

With additional reporting by Janon Fisher and John Doyle