By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Feb 7 (Reuters) - A man convicted of killing two
undercover police officers is not mentally retarded, a federal
judge in Brooklyn ruled Thursday, paving the way for prosecutors
to seek the death penalty.
Lawyers for Ronell Wilson, 30, argued that putting him to
death would violate the Eighth Amendment, as well as the Federal
Death Penalty Act, which bars the execution of mentally retarded
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled
that Wilson "is not mentally retarded, and was not mentally
retarded at the time of the crime."
It is the latest twist in the long-running case, which took
a dramatic turn on Tuesday when authorities arrested a female
correctional officer from the Metropolitan Detention Center in
Brooklyn, where Wilson is being held. She was charged with
having sex with an inmate, identified in the complaint as Inmate
#1. A source familiar with the matter identified the inmate as
Wilson. Authorities said she is eight months pregnant with what
she believes to be the inmate's child, according to the
Wilson was originally sentenced to death by a jury in 2007
for killing two New York Police Department officers posing as
gun buyers in Staten Island. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals vacated the sentence in 2010, finding that prosecutors
had violated his constitutional rights by, among other things,
telling jurors that his decision to go to trial instead of
pleading guilty indicated a lack of remorse.
The case was remanded for resentencing, and the U.S.
Attorney's office in Brooklyn said it would once again seek the
death penalty. New York state's highest court ruled the death
penalty unconstitutional in 2004. Wilson's was a federal death
sentence, the first in the state since 1954.
JUDGE ON IQ TEST
Wilson's lawyers said they believed he was mentally retarded
and that executing him would run afoul of the U.S. Supreme
Court's 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia. In Atkins, it was
ruled that "the mentally retarded should be categorically
excluded from execution" because doing so would violate the
Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The Federal Death Penalty Act also bars the execution of
mentally retarded prisoners but does not define criteria for
During a hearing last year before Garaufis, Wilson's four
experts each said that he met the criteria of mental
retardation, while the government's three experts reached the
opposite conclusion, according to court papers.
Garaufis said that he would use a three-pronged approach to
evaluate mental retardation: whether there was evidence of
significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, typically
translating to an IQ score of 70 or less; whether there were
significant deficits in adaptive behavioral skills like holding
a job; and whether the condition began to manifest itself before
the age of 18.
In Thursday's ruling, Garaufis focused on scores from IQ
tests administered to Wilson since his childhood.
"Wilson's tests strongly suggest that his true IQ score is
more likely than not above 70," Garaufis wrote. "That is a
compelling indication that he does not suffer from significantly
subaverage intellectual functioning."
A lawyer for Wilson, David Stern, declined to comment.
Sentencing proceedings are slated to begin on May 20.
The case is U.S. v. Wilson, U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of New York, No. 04-1016.
For the U.S.: James McGovern, Celia Cohen and Shreve Ariail.
For Wilson: Colleen Brady, David Stern and Michael Burt
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