Ronell Wilson’s first death sentence for killing two undercover cops in 2003 was overturned on a technicality, but now he’s once again the first New Yorker on federal death row since the fifties. After Wilson’s death sentence was thrown out by an appeals court in 2010, prosecutors decided to repeat the penalty phase of his trial instead of letting him serve life in prison without parole. After five hours of deliberation on Wednesday, a jury found that Wilson should be sentenced to death after hearing testimony about his misbehavior in prison, the New York Times reports. In addition to refusing to be handcuffed and threatening a gay inmate, Wilson became a tabloid regular earlier this year when his sexual relationship with a prison guard resulted in her giving birth to a baby boy named Justus.
The defense admitted that Wilson shot undercover officers James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews in the back of the head while they were posing as illegal gun buyers, but argued that life in prison was sufficient. They said Ronell was raised around criminals by a crack-addicted mother, and was never taught to tell right from wrong. Wilson’s own lawyer, David Stern, offered a grim picture of the rest of his life. “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.”
New York’s highest court struck down the death penalty in 2004, and the state rarely sees federal death penalty cases. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement after the verdict, “It was an assault on the society that those officers represented, and for that reason their murders had to be answered with the full force of punishment at society’s disposal. To do otherwise is to invite chaos.”