Why was an unusual death penalty verdict reurned in New York City this week? The New York Times cites several reasons: Police detectives were shot at close range in the backs of their heads. Fellow officers and relatives filled the courtroom, day after day. Jurors came from outside Manhattan. The seven women and five men decided that defendant Ronell Wilson should die. That made him the first person to face death in a federal case in New York since the 1950s. “There was a confluence of factors,” said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law. “I think it's highly unlikely there will be another case with all these particular elements anytime soon.”
Law Prof. Michael Greenberger of the University of Maryland noted that advances in DNA testing have uncovered faulty convictions and made juries more hesitant to impose the death sentence. There were no such doubts in the Wilson case. “This case is one that shocks the conscience,” he said. “The brutal nature of it, I think, aligned the stars for this kind of verdict.” Counting Wilson, there are now 47 federal prisoners on death row. Prosecutors in New York have failed to obtain death sentences even in closely watched terrorism trials involving embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.