Officer’s murderer gets life
Jury didn’t order death sentence
WILKES-BARRE — Already serving 25 years to life for murder, gang assassin Jessie Con-ui was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole for the vicious murder of a federal correctional officer at U.S. Penitentiary Canaan.
A jury in June convicted Con-ui, 40, of murdering correctional officer and Nanticoke native Eric Williams, 34, in a brutal attack on Feb. 25, 2013. But the jury deadlocked on whether to put him to death for the crime, setting the stage for a mandatory life sentence and a sentencing hearing that was largely a formality.
Williams’ family, who attended the trial daily, was absent from the courtroom Thursday. They supported a death sentence and were outraged that the jury deadlocked, with father Don Williams saying at the time that the jury “did absolutely nothing.”
Williams’ co-workers at Canaan, who likewise attended the trial in force, also skipped the hearing, save for a nurse who was among those who worked to save Williams after the attack.
Con-ui — who appeared by video from U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, where he is being held in isolation — appeared at ease prior to the hearing, smiling and joking about food as he slouched in his chair while wearing an orange jumpsuit. He did not address the court, with his attorneys saying Con-ui would stand by a statement he made during trial.
“I’m sorry my actions caused so much heartache and pain,” Con-ui said at the time. “I wish I could take back what I did. I wish I could take back what happened. I wish I could give you a better explanation on why I did this, but I can’t.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis P. Sempa briefly addressed the court and expressed disappointment with the jury’s verdict, noting that Con-ui, a member of the New Mexican Mafia who goes by “Chino,” is already serving 25 years to life in prison for executing a gang member in Phoenix in 2002.
The Williams family, he said, continues to struggle with knowing that Con-ui has received little additional punishment for his crime.
“They’re never going to believe that justice was done in this case,” Sempa said. “Our words ring hollow.”
Defense attorney James A. Swetz of Stroudsburg said the defense respects the jury’s verdict but still feels for the Williams family.
“We have great sympathy for the Williams’ loss,” Swetz said.
At the time of the slaying, Con-ui was serving the tail end of an 11-year federal prison term for trafficking 33 pounds of cocaine. Upon completion of the federal time, he would have been shipped to Arizona to serve out his murder sentence there.
But that changed in February 2013 after another officer searched his cell and removed some minor contraband, including homemade speakers made from altered headphones and cardboard. Feeling disrespected, Con-ui ambushed Williams, kicking him down a flight of stairs before laying into him with two shanks — stabbing and striking Williams more than 200 times, in addition to stomping and slamming the officer’s head on the ground.
Despite delivering a quick guilty verdict for the crime, which was captured on a grim video played for jurors, the same jury deadlocked in July on whether he should die for the crime — with a lone holdout determining Con-ui would get a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
In imposing the sentence Thursday, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo ordered Con-ui to serve life without the possibility of parole for Williams’ murder. Con-ui will also have to serve five years for possessing contraband in prison and to pay $300 in court costs, the judge ordered. Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-821-2058