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Slain Philly cop's family: DA Larry Krasner is 'favoring the criminals'

Relatives of slain Sgt. Robert Wilson III said that Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner had not given them straight answers about whether he will continue to seek the death penalty in the case against Wilson's accused killers.

Shaki’ra Wilson-Burroughs, sister of slain Sgt. Robert Wilson III, and Constance Wilson, their grandmother, at the home in West Philadelphia where they previously met with District Attorney Larry Krasner. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Shaki’ra Wilson-Burroughs, sister of slain Sgt. Robert Wilson III, and Constance Wilson, their grandmother, at the home in West Philadelphia where they previously met with District Attorney Larry Krasner. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff PhotographerRead moreJOSE F. MORENO

When the new district attorney came to Constance Wilson's West Philadelphia rowhouse last month, about 25 of her relatives and friends were gathered inside, sitting on couches and chairs, standing by windows and walls.

For three years, the two men charged with killing Wilson's grandson – Sgt. Robert Wilson III – had been awaiting a death penalty trial. He was shot dead in 2015 trying to stop a robbery at a North Philadelphia GameStop, an action the police commissioner and the mayor described as heroic.

But District Attorney Larry Krasner had campaigned on a promise never to seek capital punishment, and Constance Wilson and her supporters wanted to know whether his office would continue to seek the death penalty. To their dismay, Krasner — who brought with him several top staffers — seemed to dance around a firm position for two hours, Wilson recalled Thursday. He seemed standoffish, almost nonchalant, she said, acting as if he'd shown up simply to say that he had done so.

"He never gave any direct answers," said Wilson, 76.

Her granddaughter, Shaki'ra Wilson-Burroughs, 35, was more blunt. "It feels like he's favoring the criminals," she said. "It doesn't seem like he's advocating for the victims."

The prosecution of the alleged gunmen, Ramone Williams and Carlton Hipps, represents a political quandary for Krasner. Wilson's family and the police favor the death penalty, while Krasner's liberal supporters hope the self-styled reformer sticks to his word.

Now the city's top prosecutor finally may have to make his choice. The case is due for a status update Wednesday in which prosecutors could say whether they will pursue capital punishment. The trial is scheduled to begin next month.

Through a representative, Krasner declined to be interviewed about the case. In a statement, the representative said that the case remains under review and that the office "is committed to finding justice for the Wilson family."

Krasner said on the campaign trail that he would never seek the death penalty because it is a waste of resources and does not deter crime. Capital punishment is legal in Pennsylvania, but no inmate has been executed since 1999, and Gov. Wolf placed a moratorium on executions in 2015.

Sgt. Wilson's relatives are bracing for the death penalty to be taken off the table. They said Krasner told them at the grandmother's home that an internal committee at his office would have to vote on the potential penalty. But when they asked who was on the committee, said Wilson-Burroughs, he offered no names.

They also asked to address the committee before it made its decision. According to the Wilson family, Krasner's victim advocate, Movita Johnson-Harrell, said at the meeting that she would do so for them. The relatives said they had never met her before, and have not heard from her since.

"It just seems like we were on track," said Wilson-Burroughs. "This is [like] starting over."

Sgt. Wilson, 30, an eight-year veteran of the force, was widely praised as a hero after he was shot dead on March 5, 2015, inside a GameStop at 2101 W. Lehigh Ave. He had stopped at the store while on duty to buy a video game for his son.

Brothers Williams and Hipps, according to prosecutors, came in after Wilson, hoping to rob the store. When they saw the officer in uniform, authorities have said, the men pulled their guns and started shooting. The crime was captured on surveillance video.

Wilson fired back but several bullets struck him. Both alleged shooters were arrested nearby; Wilson was declared dead at Temple University Hospital.

Then-Commissioner Charles Ramsey said at Wilson's funeral: "I have never witnessed an act of bravery like that I saw that day. Never. It's one of the bravest days we've ever seen anyone live."

The Police Department's medal of valor was renamed in memory of Wilson, and his badge number – 9990 – was retired.

Wilson-Burroughs on Thursday wore a T-shirt with those bold blue numerals. She believes that her brother's killers deserve the most serious punishment allowed by law because of the nature of the crime: the deliberate targeting of an officer.

"They took my brother's life and didn't think twice about it," she said. "They could've left [the store]. It's a capital crime."

Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Thursday that he agrees. He declined to comment further.

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the police officers union, said Friday: "If there's ever a case for capital punishment, this would be it."

Constance Wilson said she thinks Krasner should pass the case to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro because Michael Coard, a defense lawyer in the case, has been a prominent Krasner supporter and was on his transition team.

Krasner, Wilson said, "is friends with the enemy." She questioned whether the district attorney would be impartial, given the circumstances.

West Chester lawyer Samuel C. Stretton, an expert in judicial ethics who also has an office in Center City, said in an interview that many prosecutors and defense lawyers in Philadelphia know each other. As long as they communicate about cases within official channels, it's generally not considered a conflict to face a friend or former partner, he said.

Wilson-Burroughs said she told Krasner about her discomfort with the direction he seemed to want to take the case.

Three years after her brother's death, she is frustrated.

"It seems like everything is kept hush-hush," she said. "We're not getting anything from them."