Donovan, who represented the city's most politically conservative borough, made no secret of his desire to make Wilson pay the ultimate price, even if it meant letting his federal counterparts try the case.

Jacobus, who was convicted of second-degree murder, testified that Wilson shot Andrews seconds after demanding that his victims "Give it up!" Wilson then shot Nemorin, Jacobus said, after the officer begged for his life. Wilson's lawyers claimed he hadn't known the men he was robbing were cops.

Prosecutors contended that Wilson's criminal history suggested he'd remain a danger to society even while in prison, that he knew his victims were working undercover, and that the cold-blooded nature of his crime merited the severest penalty. They asserted that the defendant had shown no remorse. After nine hours of deliberation, the jurors agreed that death was the appropriate punishment.

Illustration by Rob Zammarchi

The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the sentence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Smith, the judges found, had violated Wilson's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights when he told the jury in his closing statement that the defendant's decisions to plead not guilty and not to take the stand demonstrated a lack of remorse.

The judge who presided over the retrial of Wilson's sentencing, Nicholas G. Garaufis, has been known to question the cost-benefit balance of capital punishment cases.

"It's important for the Justice Department to examine the use of the very limited resources of the United States Attorney's office and of the court in pursuing the death penalty," Garaufis wrote in a 2008 letter that spurred then-U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to drop a death penalty undertaking in the case of convicted murderer Gerard Price.

But U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder authorized prosecutors to make another run at Wilson.

"It is the only case I know in which the federal government has started seeking out the death penalty, got a death verdict, had that death verdict later reversed on appeal, then had to go through the expense of the sentencing phase all over again and got another death verdict," says Ronald Tabak, chair of the American Bar Association's death penalty committee.

The second time around, jurors heard that Wilson had stuck out his tongue at his victims' families after the jury announced its verdict at his original trial. Prosecutors also had 10 years of jail time to draw from: Fellow inmates testified that Wilson bullied them, bragged about the murder, and initiated convicts into the Bloods. They also had a juicy scandal to draw on: While incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, Wilson had sex with a correctional officer, Nancy Gonzalez, on numerous occasions. Gonzalez, who pleaded guilty earlier this summer to the illicit liaisons, gave birth to Wilson's son in March.

This time around, it took the second crew of 12 jurors only five hours to re-sentence Wilson, now 31, to death. At a hearing last week, Garaufis made it official.

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