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NY cop killer sentenced to death for second time; judge rebukes prison

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York man was sentenced to death for a second time in federal court on Tuesday for killing two undercover detectives, three years after his first death verdict was overturned on appeal.

Ronell Wilson, 31, is the only federal defendant to be sentenced to death in New York in 60 years.

In sentencing Wilson, U.S. District Judge Nicolas Garaufis also excoriated the federal Bureau of Prisons as he outlined Wilson's aggressive behavior while being held at the bureau's detention center in Brooklyn, saying the facility was run with "apparent ineptitude" and calling for an investigation.

Wilson was convicted of shooting two detectives, James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews, in the head at point-blank range on Staten Island in 2003 during a failed sting operation.

A jury recommended the death penalty in July after a month-long sentencing trial during which Wilson's prison behavior was a major focus, a point that Garaufis emphasized in formally handing down the death sentence on Tuesday.

"Under the watch of the Bureau of Prisons, Mr. Wilson manipulated staff members to his advantage, intimidated weaker and vulnerable inmates, and even carried on a months-long sexual relationship with a female staff member, which resulted in the birth of a child," Garaufis said.

Garaufis said that Wilson had transformed the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn into his own "private fiefdom."

The judge called on the Justice Department's inspector general to investigate the Bureau of Prisons' operation of the detention center.

A spokesman for the prisons bureau said the agency would give full consideration to Garaufis's comments but declined to respond to any specific criticism. A call to the Justice Department inspector general's office was not immediately returned.

Before sentencing, Wilson turned to his victims' families and apologized while asking for their forgiveness.

"I'm deeply sorry for the pain I caused you and your families," he said. "I'll end on this note: To err is human, to forgive is divine."

As he was led out of the courtroom following the sentencing, members of his family called out, "We love you, Ronell."

Capital cases remain the exception in New York, where the state's highest court struck down the death penalty in 2004.

Federal prosecutors, who are still empowered to seek the death penalty, took over the Wilson case after the state invalidated capital punishment and won a death verdict in 2007.

In 2010, however, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals set aside Wilson's execution. The court found that prosecutors violated his constitutional rights by telling jurors, among other things, that Wilson's decision to go to trial indicated he felt no remorse.

The court sent the case back to federal court in Brooklyn for resentencing, and the government decided to seek the death penalty for a second time.

Wilson will become the 59th defendant on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks capital punishment statistics. The federal government has executed only three defendants since 1963, including Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the 1995 bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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