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Prosecutors Seek To Limit Defendant’s Statements In Prison Killing

November 8, 2016

WILKES-BARRE — Federal prosecutors on Monday filed a flurry of motions seeking to limit what the gang assassin accused of murdering a correctional officer can present to a jury if he is convicted and the panel is asked to consider putting him to death.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Jessie Con-ui, a convicted drug trafficker and murderer, who is accused of ambushing and fatally stabbing Nanticoke native Eric Williams, a federal correctional officer at U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan. During the February 2013 attack, Con-ui, angered over a previous cell search, kicked Williams down a flight of stairs before beating and slashing him to death with two shanks, prosecutors allege.

The filings Monday seek to limit the type of evidence Con-ui can admit during the guilt and penalty phases of his April trial date. If he is convicted, Con-ui should be limited to presenting mitigating evidence related to his background, record or character — not about the impact of his death, they wrote.

“In this case, the Defendant may attempt to introduce evidence relating to the effect that his execution would have on his family, friends, and loved ones,” says the filing signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis P. Sempa. “However, testimony that the defendant’s family and friends love him, that a death verdict would have a negative impact on them, their own personal views about the death penalty, their opinion regarding the sentence that should be imposed in this case, or any general plea for sympathy or mercy are not relevant to a ‘reasoned moral response’ to defendant’s character or his personal culpability for the charged murders.”

Another motion seeks to prevent Con-ui from delivering an unsworn statement to the jury if he is convicted, with prosecutors arguing anything he wants to say to the jury could be conveyed during testimony, which would allow for cross-examination.

Prosecutors are also seeking to prohibit Con-ui from introducing prison culture evidence showing that the federal Bureau of Prisons was negligent in its treatment of inmates. Con-ui’s attorneys have suggested the climate created by prison officials is conducive to violence.

“First, such evidence is irrelevant to the issues to be decided at the guilt phase of trial,” Sempa wrote. “Second, such evidence is not relevant to establish a mitigating factor identified in the Federal Death Penalty Act.”

Finally, prosecutors are seeking to stop Con-ui from submitting evidence or arguments during sentencing comparing his case to any others, writing that such comparisons are not relevant mitigating information under the law.

As he awaits trial, Con-ui is jailed at ADX Florence, the supermaximum security prison in Colorado.

570-821-2058, @cvjimhalpin