In a case closely watched due to District Attorney Larry Krasner’s campaign vow never to seek capital punishment, his office has agreed to not seek the death penalty for two men accused of fatally shooting a city police officer in 2015 if they admit to their crimes, according to the slain officer’s relatives.
The highly publicized killing took place at a North Philadelphia GameStop store where the officer had gone to buy a gift for his son.
Shaki’ra Wilson-Burroughs, sister of Sgt. Robert Wilson III, said the District Attorney’s Office informed the family late Friday afternoon that Carlton Hipps and Ramone Williams, accused of killing her brother, were offered life sentences plus 50 to 100 years in prison if they plead guilty and give up appeal rights at a hearing Monday.
If Hipps and Williams accept the deal and a judge agrees, it would spare them from death row. But it sparked immediate backlash from Wilson’s relatives and the city’s police union.
Wilson-Burroughs said that her family was not involved with the decision-making process over the last several months, and that they were called by Krasner’s office just before 4 p.m.
“It seems everything is being done to benefit these men who killed my brother,” she said.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, called the plea offer “despicable.” “I can’t believe they’re going to do this to the family,” he said.
Ben Waxman, spokesperson for Krasner, declined to comment on the Wilson case. Attorneys for Hipps and Williams could not be reached Friday evening.
If the case is resolved Monday, it could all but close the books on capital punishment in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.
Gov. Wolf three years ago issued a moratorium on all executions in Pennsylvania pending completion of a long-delayed state study on capital punishment. And Krasner — sworn into office six months ago — said as a candidate that he would never seek the death penalty, calling it “expensive, ineffective, and racially biased,” and equating its pursuit to “lighting money on fire.”
The situation marks a sea change from 23 years ago when then-District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham was branded America’s “deadliest DA” by the New York Times. Fifty inmates from Philadelphia are on death row, according to state statistics, 33 of whom were sentenced during Abraham’s tenure from May 1991 to January 2010.
Two inmates from the city currently on death row were sentenced after Abraham left office, according to the state statistics. No Pennsylvania inmate has been executed since Gary Heidnik in 1999.
Nationally, the number of executions has decreased in recent years, from 52 in 2009 to 23 in 2017, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, based in Washington. Nineteen states have outlawed capital punishment, the organization said.
None of that swayed Wilson-Burroughs. She and her relatives believe that Hipps and Williams should face the steepest penalty allowed by law for killing Wilson, an eight-year veteran of the force, shot while on duty on March 5, 2015.
He had gone into the store to buy the gift for his son, but instead encountered Hipps and Williams — who are brothers — using guns in a robbery, authorities said. Wilson returned fire but was struck by several bullets and declared dead shortly afterward. The Police Department later named its medal of valor after him.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross and McNesby both agreed with Wilson-Burroughs that the case against Wilson’s accused killers was worthy of a potential death sentence.
Wilson-Burroughs said of prosecutors Friday: “I honestly feel that they failed my brother.”