Ronell Wilson, the Last New Yorker on Death Row, Won’t Be Executed After All

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Ronell Wilson.

A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled that a man who was convicted in 2006 of killing two undercover cops in Staten Island will not be executed because of his “intellectual disabilities.” 

Wilson, a reputed gang member who committed the gruesome crime in 2003, was the last New Yorker on federal death row. (New York State abolished capital punishment in 2007, and all death sentences were converted to life imprisonment; Wilson, though, was prosecuted in federal court, which still has the death penalty, though no one’s been executed since 2003.) A federal jury first sentenced Wilson to death in 2007, but that decision was reversed; prosecutors sought and won the death penalty again a few years later, and Wilson has been sitting on death row in Terre Haute, Indiana, since 2013.

When Wilson’s death sentence was reinstated, a judge refused his attorneys’ defense that his low IQ disqualified him from capital punishment. The same judge — Nicholas Garaufis — reversed that ruling on Tuesday, based on a 2014 Supreme Court decision that requires judges to look beyond an IQ level to determine whether an inmate has an intellectual disability. Garaufis found that Wilson did, based on expert testimony, and thus spared his life. In his ruling, the judge wrote in that it was “impossible to muster any sympathy for the defendant,” but:

Ultimately, however, this decision is not based on sympathy for the defendant or for his victims; nor is it based on a particular view of the efficacy or appropriateness of the death penalty generally. Rather, it is based on a careful interpretation of evolving Supreme Court precedent and a sober review of the evidence.