Of­fi­cer’s mur­derer gets life

Jury didn’t or­der death sen­tence

The Times-Tribune - - Local - STAFF WRITER BY JAMES HALPIN

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: jhalpin@cit­i­zensvoice.com; 570-821-2058



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