By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man convicted of murdering two New York City police officers cannot be executed because he is mentally disabled, a U.S. judge ruled on Tuesday.
The decision from U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn is the latest setback for federal prosecutors who have spent nearly a decade trying to keep Ronell Wilson, now 33, on death row.
"The court finds that Wilson has demonstrated significant deficits in adaptive functioning, and he therefore meets the legal standard for proving intellectual disability," Garaufis wrote in a 76-page decision.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn declined to comment. Lawyers for Wilson did not respond to a request for comment.
Wilson was found guilty in 2006 and later sentenced to death for shooting two undercover detectives in the head in 2003 during a sting operation.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York threw out the punishment in 2010, ruling that prosecutors violated Wilson's rights by making improper arguments to the jury during the death penalty phase.
In 2013, another federal jury voted in favor of death, after Garaufis rejected arguments from Wilson's lawyers that his intelligence test scores were too low.
Wilson's behavior at a New York detention center was a major focus during the second death penalty trial. He impregnated a female staff member and, in Garaufis' words, turned the center into his own "private fiefdom."
But the appeals court again sent the case back to Garaufis last year, ordering him to reconsider in light of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that judges should consider a range of IQ scores, rather than a fixed number, in analyzing mental capability.
Garaufis remained unconvinced that Wilson is truly disabled and called on the Supreme Court or Congress to provide "clearer guidance" on what standard to use.
"The court harbors doubt as to whether Wilson would be considered intellectually disabled by most clinicians," he wrote. "Having presided over this tragic case for more than a decade, the court quite frankly finds it impossible to muster any sense of sympathy for this defendant."
New York outlawed capital punishment in 2004, but federal prosecutors can still seek the death penalty.
The federal government has executed only three defendants since 1963, and President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the practice in light of several state-level botched executions.
Wilson is one of more than 60 federal death row inmates.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Edited by Tom Brown)