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Accused correctional officer killer attempts to avoid death penalty

Asked a judge to strike the prosecution’s intent to seek the death penalty, citing a maturing society’s “evolving standards of decency”


Jesse Con-Ui.

Photo/Pa. DOC

By Joe Dolinsky
The Times-Leader

WILKES-BARRE — The defense for a New Mexican Mafia member facing trial in the 2013 stabbing death of a corrections officer from Nanticoke has asked a judge to strike the prosecution’s intent to seek the death penalty, citing a maturing society’s “evolving standards of decency.”

In a nearly 400-page motion filed Oct. 6 in U.S. District Court, the defense for Jessie Con-Ui argues against imposing the federal death penalty for several reasons, claiming among them the punishment is “carried out in an arbitrary and capricious manner that is akin to being struck by lighting.”

In a response filed Monday seeking the motion’s denial by U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo, prosecutors claim the defendant’s arguments are in stark contrast to long-standing legal principles and overwhelming authority to the contrary.

Appealing to the court’s sense of decency is merely an attempt to have it rule in contradiction to prevailing law, which it cannot do, wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis P. Sempa.

Con-Ui, 37, faces the death penalty in the Feb. 25, 2013 murder of Corrections Officer Eric J. Williams, 34, at U.S. Penitentiary Canaan in Wayne County. In their response, prosecutors argue Williams’ murder was carried out in an “especially cruel, heinous or depraved manner.”

Despite the defendant’s complaint that insufficient evidence has been provided in the prosecution’s allegations, prosecutors argue clear video evidence from prison surveillance cameras show Con-Ui ambush and kick Williams down a flight of stairs before pinning him down and stabbing him over 200 times with multiple shanks.

After being escorted from his cell after the attack, Con-Ui allegedly said, “Hey, man, I am sorry but I had to do what I had to do. I am sick of all your people’s disrespect,” according to an FBI report filed earlier this year. Con-Ui was also reportedly upset that Williams had previously ordered a search of Con-Ui’s cell, according to court documents.

Prosecutors argue Con-Ui’s propensity for violence justifies the death penalty.

Con-Ui was at Canaan serving an 11-year prison sentence stemming from a 2003 guilty plea for his role in a drug ring run by the New Mexican Mafia. Following that sentence, he was set to begin serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in 2008 to first-degree murder.

Court documents claim Con-Ui agreed to or participated in several separate, uncharged incidents while incarcerated between 1999 and 2010, including stabbing another inmate with a homemade knife and assaulting a fellow inmate with a food tray.

While out of jail in 2013, Con-Ui agreed to participate in the murder of a law enforcement officer but was arrested in Arizona before the murder could be carried out.

Con-Ui is currently an inmate at a supermaxium facility in Florence, Colorado known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” according to the Bureau of Prisons website.

His trial is scheduled to begin in July, 2016.

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