An aunt and a social worker described Ronell Wilson's chaotic upbringing in a crack-riddled household as the convicted cop-killer opened his defense in his federal death penalty retrial on Wednesday.

Wilson, 31, was one of nine children who grew up with their mothers -- three crack-addicted sisters -- and aging grandmother in a small apartment in the Stapleton public housing project on Staten Island, said Michelle Conklin, a city child services worker who filed abuse and neglect petitions involving the family in the 1980s.

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She described Wilson as a skinny, "rough and tumble" 5-year-old who couldn't stay still, and said that despite an epidemic of crime in the neighborhood, the kids all were on their own. "They all came and went as they pleased," Conklin said. "There was no concern about whether they were OK and safe to be outside."

Wilson was convicted in 2006 of murdering NYPD detectives James Nemorin of Baldwin Harbor and Rodney Andrews of Middle Village during an undercover gun buy in 2003. An appeals court reversed his death sentence, and ordered a new trial in federal court in Brooklyn on whether he should be executed or get life in prison.

Prosecutors say he would be a continuing danger if allowed to live because of his gang connections. The defense says his difficult upbringing mitigates responsibility for his crime.