Ronell Wilson - the man convicted of killing two undercover detectives on Staten Island in 2003 and New York State's only inmate under a federal death sentence - is getting off death row after a federal appeals court Wednesday threw out his sentence.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said federal prosecutors violated Wilson's constitutional rights when they asked a jury to sentence him to death for the slayings of NYPD detectives James Nemorin, of Baldwin Harbor, and Rodney Andrews, of Middle Village, Queens, in an undercover gun buy gone bad.
The three-judge appeals panel, upheld Wilson's conviction, but sent Wilson's case back to U.S. District Court for new sentencing.
After his 2006 conviction in the capital murder case by a federal jury in Brooklyn, Wilson was the first New Yorker sentenced to death under the federal statute in more than 50 years. Until Wednesday's court action, he was one of 61 people facing a federally imposed death penalty.
Wilson, 28, has been in the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.
By a 2-1 vote, the judges said prosecutors overreached in their summation to the jury during the 2007 penalty phase of the trial. The prosecutors, the court said, improperly suggested Wilson should be put to death in part because his insistence on a trial and his failure to testify contradicted his claims at sentencing that he was taking responsibility for his crime.
Those arguments violated Wilson's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, the court said.
Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote that prosecutors improperly "used Wilson's demand for trial to evidence lack of remorse and refusal to accept responsibility."
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who was angered by the decision, called the deaths of Nemorin, 36, and Andrews, 34, "a cold-blooded execution."
"Anyone who murders a police officer should be executed," Kelly said in a statement read by a spokesman. "This case went beyond heinous."
Nemorin, who had two sons and a daughter, was the department's first Haitian officer killed in the line of duty. Andrews, a father of two sons, was a seven-year department veteran.
"Our office is currently reviewing the [Second Circuit] decision and considering options," Nardoza said.
A man who answered the door at the Bellmore home of Nemorin's widow said the family would not comment.
Beverly Van Ness of Manhattan, one of the attorneys who handled Wilson's appeal, said she was "very relieved and very happy" about the ruling. She said she plans to speak to Wilson Thursday. Mitchell Dinnerstein of Manhattan, Wilson's trial attorney, declined to comment.
In 2006, a jury in federal court in Brooklyn convicted Wilson, leader of the violent Stapleton gang on Staten Island, on five capital counts - including murder in aid of racketeering - in the March 2003 shootings of Nemorin and Andrews.
Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a death-penalty opponent, called the shootings "a despicable crime."
"My thoughts are with the families of Detectives Nemorin and Andrews on what must be a very difficult day for them," the mayor said in a statement.