Jurors at Ronell Wilson's upcoming death penalty trial will be allowed to hear claims that after his first trial, he may have stuck his tongue out at the widows of the two police officers he was convicted of murdering, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Wilson's notorious gesture -- allegedly directed at the widows of detectives James Nemorin of Baldwin Harbor and Rodney Andrews of Middle Village, Queens -- came after a jury in 2007 decided he should be executed. The ruling was overturned, and a retrial starts Monday.
Prosecutors say that "the victims' widows will testify that Wilson looked in their direction and stuck out his tongue at them, understanding the act to be 'intentional and patently offensive,' " wrote Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis. "This is strong evidence that Wilson . . . has no remorse for his crimes."
The gesture was widely reported at the time. Garaufis said he would not allow prosecutors to call a retired detective who observed the scene, or a sketch artist who made a drawing of it, but said the widows themselves were the best source of reliable testimony.
"As the intended targets of Wilson's act, these witnesses were in the best position to observe and ascertain the meaning of Wilson's gesture," the judge said in a seven-page ruling. "They can readily testify as to how they interpreted Wilson's conduct, which directly reflects on his intent."
News reports in 2007 reflected different interpretations of the gesture and who it was directed at, raising questions about how persuasive the evidence will be.
According to a New York Times account, for example, Nemorin's widow said at a post-verdict news conference that she "wasn't looking at" Wilson, and Andrews' widow said she "didn't realize that he stuck his tongue out."
Nemorin, 36, and Andrews, 34, were murdered during an undercover gun buy in Staten Island in 2003. Wilson was sentenced to death in 2007, but it was overturned in 2010 because prosecutors improperly commented on Wilson's decision not to testify, and because Garaufis failed to give jurors a required instruction.
Garaufis last year rejected a claim that Wilson couldn't be executed because he is "retarded." In February, federal prison guard Nancy Gonzalez, 29, of Huntington Station, was charged with conceiving a child with Wilson while he was jailed in Brooklyn.
Wilson, 31, will get life in prison unless jurors unanimously agree on the death penalty. Wilson is expected to argue that his crimes were the product of a difficult upbringing, he is still loved by his family and he is not a future danger to society.
The trial is expected to last at least a month.