An appeals court struck down the first successful federal capital-punishment prosecution in New York State in more than 50 years, overturning the death sentence given to Ronell Wilson, who was convicted of killing two undercover New York City police detectives who were posing as gun buyers in 2003, the New York Times reports.
No federal juries have been more reluctant to sentence federal defendants to death than those in New York State. Federal prosecutors in the state asked juries to impose death sentences 19 times from 1988 through March 2008, but in only one of those cases – Wilson – did a jury vote for execution, said the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. In the Wilson cased, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said, in a judicial panel’s 2-to-1 decision, that prosecutors made improper statements to the jury. The judges said a prosecutor's highlighting of Wilson's refusal to testify violated his Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself.