Staten Island Advance
July 30, 2003

Accused killer's lawyer rips D.A. for seeking death penalty

Attorney for alleged cop killer charges 'political considerations' and public opinion are behind the decision

By FRANK DONNELLY

A lawyer for alleged cop-killer Ronell Wilson yesterday accused District Attorney William L. Murphy of bowing to public opinion and "political considerations" in seeking the death penalty against his client.

"District Attorney Murphy has strayed from the moral high ground," said lawyer Mark J. Fonte of St. George, less than 24 hours before prosecutors will formally announce their decision in court.

"Society as a whole takes a step backwards when those empowered seek to take the life of another human being under the guise of imposing justice," Fonte said.

On Monday, Murphy told Wilson's defense team and the families of slain Detectives Rodney J. Andrews and James V. Nemorin that he will pursue the first capital murder case in his record 21 years as Staten Island's top prosecutor.

An inmate was last executed in New York state in 1963. A Staten Island jury last voted for the death penalty in 1929.

Wilson, 21, of Stapleton, faces six counts of first-degree murder for allegedly slaying Andrews and Nemorin on March 10. The two cops were killed in a gun-buy sting in Tompkinsville.

Five other suspects were charged in the case. Three of them, Omar Green, 19, and Jessie Jacobus, 17, both of Stapleton, and Mitchell Diaz, 19, of Lancaster, Pa., have reportedly cut deals and will testify against Wilson.

The two other defendants are Paris Bullock, 21, of St. George, and Michael Whiten, 19, of New Brighton.Murphy has until tomorrow -- 120 days from Wilson's April 2 indictment -- to file his decision with the court. He had not done so as of yesterday.

UNIONS BACK MURPHY

Monica Brown, his spokeswoman, said prosecutors will make a statement today when Wilson appears in state Supreme Court, St. George, for a conference.

While Ms. Brown declined further comment, police and detective union officials rallied to Murphy's defense.

"We must support the district attorney of Staten Island in the decision to seek the death penalty for these cold-blooded killings," said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. "[Wilson] took the lives of two New York City police officers and we cannot let this pass. It rips at the fiber of the society of New York City."

The vice president of the Detectives' Endowment Association was even more blunt.

"[Wilson] should pay with his own life if convicted at trial," said Michael J. Palladino. "It was a ruthless, cold-blooded murder."

Prosecutors can pursue a capital case under three theories: That Wilson knew the victims were cops, that he murdered the two victims during the commission of an attempted robbery and that he killed more than one person in the same criminal act.

Prosecutors need only prove one of the theories for a jury to consider the death penalty.

Fonte said the defense team met three times with Murphy, but failed to sway him.

"I'm disappointed," said the lawyer. "The media is filled with cases where wrongly convicted individuals are cleared after 20 years in jail. What remedy is there for the wrongly executed?"

Fonte said he believed outside pressures had influenced the district attorney's decision.

CANDIDATES IN AGREEMENT

"The fact that the deaths involve police officers, public opinion and political considerations left him with little choice," Fonte said.

Murphy's top lieutenant, Chief Assistant District Attorney David W. Lehr, a Democrat, will vie in the November general election against Deputy Borough President Dan Donovan, a Republican, for district attorney. Murphy is stepping down at year's end.

Both candidates have said they favor the death penalty in this case.

Wilson's lead attorney, Kelley J. Sharkey, of the state Capital Defender Office, declined comment.

Murphy has twice before weighed the death penalty since its reinstatement in New York state on Sept. 1, 1995. He rejected it each time, citing the defendants' mental histories.

Meiers Corners resident Vincent (Antoine) Wilson is serving life without parole after being convicted of stabbing 14-year-old Naomi Lugo to death on April 17, 1996.

Jesus Albert Pacheco of Tompkinsville was acquitted of the Sept. 29, 1996, murders of Robert Kristiansen, 51, of Tompkinsville, and Queen Esther Banks-Washington, 38, of New Brighton.

Frank Donnelly is a news reporter for the Advance. He may be reached at fdonnelly@siadvance.com.