The death penalty trial of Ronell Wilson for killing two NYPD cops began in federal court in Brooklyn Monday with opening arguments focused on whether his own tragic life overshadowed responsibility for the tragic deaths he caused.
Prosecutor James McGovern said Wilson, 31, deserved the ultimate punishment for the execution-style murders of NYPD detectives James Nemorin of Baldwin Harbor and Rodney Andrews of Middle Village, both fathers and husbands, during an undercover gun buy in 2003.
"They deserved to live," McGovern told the jury of five women and seven men. "Now, if justice is to be done, the defendant does not."
But defense lawyer Richard Jasper said Wilson was the victim of a horrific upbringing in a crowded roach- and rat-infested public housing project by a crack-addicted mother, and suffered from untreated emotional disorders that "misshaped his soul."
"Suspend the work of death until it comes at a time of God's choosing, not man's," Jasper urged.
Wilson, a member of the Bloods street gang nicknamed 'Rated R,' was convicted in 2006 of shooting the two detectives through their heads with hollow-point bullets in an attempted rip-off of $1,200 during a gun deal and dumping their bodies on a Staten Island street.
He was sentenced to death, but in 2010 an appeals court ordered a new trial on the penalty because of errors by the prosecutor and judge. He will get life in prison without parole unless all 12 jurors agree that he should be executed.
Wilson's mother attended yesterday's session, as did relatives of Nemorin and Andrews. Nemorin's widow, Rose, who is expected to testify, brought her three children and cried when prosecutors displayed the last picture of her late husband with the family.
"It's important to us," she said in a brief interview. "The children lost their dad, I lost my husband. That's for life. We're here for justice."
Wilson made headlines earlier this year when Nancy Gonzalez, a prison guard from Huntington Station at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Brooklyn, was charged with conceiving his child last year during a sexual encounter in prison. Neither side brought up that episode.
Jasper, in fact, argued to the jury that life without parole was a grim and "lonely" prospect. "Life without the hope of release is strong, cold, harsh punishment," he said. " . . . The Bureau of Prisons will be able to control him. That's what it's about. They are experts at it."
Although Wilson's guilt is not at issue in this trial, the judge will allow some evidence from the first trial to set the stage for the penalty issue. McGovern told jurors that Wilson suspected the two victims might be cops, and took steps to evade backup surveillance before pulling a gun without warning.
When an accomplice asked Wilson why he did it, McGovern said, Wilson answered, "Because I don't give a ---- [expletive] about anyone."