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United States v. Wilson

October 23, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RONELL WILSON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garaufis, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

This court is currently conducting voir dire in this case, in which the Government seeks the death penalty against Ronell Wilson ("Wilson"). Before the court are Wilson's motions to exclude Jurors 97 and 134 for cause and the Government's motions to exclude Jurors 70, 106, and 114 for cause. The legal and factual background applicable to these motions was set forth in this Court's Order dated October 20, 2006.

For the reasons set forth below, Wilson's motions are DENIED and the Government's motions are GRANTED. Jurors 97 and 134 are qualified to serve. Jurors 70, 106, and 114 are excluded for cause.

I. Wilson's Motions

A. Juror 97

Wilson moved to have Juror 97 excluded for cause on the ground that he is not life qualified. This juror's eligibility is a moderately difficult question because he articulated a principled, closely held belief favoring the death penalty as a policy matter. Because he indicated repeatedly and credibly that he will nevertheless meaningfully consider imposing a punishment of life without possibility of release in this case, I find that this juror is life qualified and eligible to serve.

Wilson argued that this juror "believes it's appropriate to impose the death sentence on Mr. Wilson to deter others." (Oct. 18, 2006 Tr. at 924-25.) That argument is not supported by the juror's statements, which indicate that he supports the death penalty as a policy matter on the ground of deterrence, but not that he has any desire to execute Wilson in order to deter others. In particular, this juror wrote in his questionnaire, "I think every state should have the death penalty. Maybe there would be less murders. A criminal would think twice before killing someone." (Answer to Question 61(a).) He repeated this statement nearly verbatim at voir dire (Oct. 19, 2006 Tr. at 910), and elaborated by stating that potential murderers "would think in the back of their mind before they pulled the trigger on somebody that if they had the death penalty, they would realize that they would be more or less doing themselves in also, and maybe they would have second thoughts about actually pulling the trigger" (id. at 913).

These general statements about policy do not contradict this juror's sincere, thoughtful statements indicating that he would meaningfully consider imposing a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of release in this case. Immediately after he made the statements just quoted, he and I had the following discussion:

Q: Given your values and beliefs, could you meaningfully consider life in prison without the possibility of release for a person found guilty of intentionally murdering two police officers?

A: Yes, I could lean the other way.

Q: All right.

A: I think it, it depends upon the, the degree of the circumstances.

Q: The first decision the jury will have to make is whether the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing the crime charged.

A: Right.

Q: If the jury determines that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of a crime that is eligible for the death penalty, then the jury has to deliberate on what penalty to impose. Would you be willing to consider evidence about the convicted individual's character and the background of this case and listen to argument from the defense that the death penalty should not be imposed in this case before you make your own determination as to what the punishment should be?

A: Of course.

Q: Can you imagine any circumstances in which the defendant has been found guilty of murdering two police officers in which you would not impose the death penalty, but you would impose a penalty of life?

A: Could I think of another circumstance?

Q: No. Could you think of any circumstance where you would impose a life sentence if a person ...


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