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Sentence of death today

When the federal court building in Downtown Brooklyn opens this morning, 60- year-old Clare Hogenauer will be sitting outside in a lawn chair with about a dozen hand-lettered signs condemning the death penalty.

But for today, anyway, her sentiments are for a lost cause.

Ronell Wilson, the Staten Island man convicted in December for killing two undercover detectives in 2003, will be formally sentenced to the death penalty for the murders by Judge Nicholas Garaufis. The case, the first federal death penalty levied in the city since 1954, will be called at 2:30 p.m.

In January, the jury that had convicted Wilson voted for capital punishment for him for the slaughter of detectives James Nemorin, 36, of Baldwin Harbor, and Rodney Andrews, 34, of Middle Village, in March 2003 during an abortive gun purchase. Today's proceedings make the death sentence official.

Wilson has the right to speak, although it was unclear whether he would.

Defense attorney Ephraim Savitt said yesterday that he will speak on his client's behalf and tell Garaufis that imposing the death penalty - which the court must do now - doesn't accomplish anything constructive.

"I will say if you look at the goals of sentencing, none of them are satisfied by the death sentence," Savitt said in an interview with Newsday.

The only thing the death penalty does is satisfy the call for retribution, Savitt said.

But for Michael Palladino, head of the Detectives Endowment Association, death by lethal injection, the method used in the federal system, is a fitting punishment for Wilson.

"This will probably be one of the most gratifying days in my law enforcement career, if I hear Judge Garaufis give the death penalty," Palladino said. "It has been a long, four-year ordeal for the families and the union, and tomorrow the ordeal ends."

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn said late yesterday that it wasn't clear whether the widows of the slain detectives or any other relatives would speak. Palladino said some of the former police partners of the dead men might address the court.

Once he is sentenced, Wilson will be sent to the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., where death row inmates are kept. Wilson has been in a federal detention center in Brooklyn. He has been denied visits with his family there since he smashed a glass partition during an outburst in January.

Hogenauer plans to attend the court proceeding. She has no illusion that her signs and outdoor protest will affect Wilson's case. But she will continue speaking out against capital punishment.

"I am not giving up," said Hogenauer, who has been protesting the death penalty for years. "If I got rid of it [the death penalty] in New York State, I can get rid of it in the federal government."

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