Expert testifies in cop-killer death penalty case

A defense expert Monday testified that convicted cop-killer Ronell Wilson was "intellectually disabled" as a hearing on whether Wilson is too mentally challenged to be eligible for the death penalty began in Brooklyn federal court.

Dr. Bruce Shapiro, a mental retardation expert at Johns Hopkins Medical School, said that Wilson -- convicted of the 2003 shooting of NYPD officers James Nemorin of Baldwin Harbor and Rodney Andrews of Middle Village during an undercover gun buy -- had a borderline IQ and lacked basic reading, writing, math and life skills.

"His conversation is littered with platitudes and space holders," Shapiro said of his meeting with Wilson. "He had trouble finding answers to follow-up questions. Intellectually disabled people can talk the talk, but don't have a deeper understanding."

Wilson, 30, was convicted of killing the officers in 2006, and a jury sentenced him to death. But the death sentence was reversed on appeal in 2010 because of prosecutorial errors during the penalty phase of the trial, and the government is now seeking to retry the capital punishment portion of the case.

Under a Supreme Court decision in 2002, it is unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded individuals. Wilson's defense team is asking U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis to bar the retrial on grounds of intellectual disability.

Shapiro said that Wilson had many of the recognized "risk factors" for retardation.

He suffered from a form of meningitis as a baby, the expert testified, grew up in poverty, and had an "impaired" relationship with his caregivers, shunted by his parents onto relatives. He also was bullied as a child and his parents were substance abusers, Shapiro said.

Wilson regularly registered raw scores of over 70 on IQ tests -- the standard benchmark for mild retardation -- but mathematical corrections for testing error and other factors pushed some of his scores slightly lower, Shapiro testified. In a 2003 test, the one closest in time to the crime, Wilson scored 76, which Shapiro said placed him in a range from 68.6 to 78.1.

Shapiro said records indicated that concerns about Wilson's intellectual functioning at school dated back to age 11. He said he was "functionally illiterate," and his girlfriend had reported that she had to help him with such basic functions as dressing, shopping and household cleaning.

On cross-examination last evening, Shapiro admitted that the 2003 IQ test was administered by an expert hired by Wilson's defense team following his arrest in 2003, who concluded that he was "borderline" but not retarded and speculated that his IQ scores were pulled down by a learning disability involving verbal skills.

The retardation defense was not presented at his first trial.

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