WILKES-BARRE — Spared by a lone juror who refused to opt for the death penalty, prison-guard killer Jessie Con-ui officially learned his fate Thursday.
Con-ui, 40, will never live to see a day as a free man, as he was sentenced to two life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.
Con-ui appeared via video conference from a supermax-security federal prison in Florence, Colorado. He stood before federal Judge A. Richard Caputo, who was in a courtroom filled mostly with reporters in the U.S. Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.
Before proceedings began, Con-ui was all smiles as he laughed with people who were off camera, despite the fact that he’s currently under solitary confinement at the prison described as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”
Con-ui was found guilty in June of both first-degree murder and first-degree murder of a U.S. corrections officer in the 2013 death of Eric Williams, 34, of Nanticoke, a federal prison guard at U.S. Penitentiary Canaan in Wayne County.
Con-ui stabbed Williams more than 200 times with a shank and stomped on his head.
He was also found guilty on a charge of possession of prison contraband.
With Con-ui’s fate already determined before proceedings even started, things proceeded rather quickly.
Con-ui’s defense attorneys initially declined to offer any comment about the upcoming sentence before it was imposed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis Sempa, meanwhile, struck a disappointed tone before the punishment became official.
“This office has voiced its disappointment during the penalty phase,” Sempa said.
The prosecutor said Williams’ family has had a hard time accepting the fact that Con-ui had avoided the death penalty, which requires all 12 jurors to be in agreement. One of the 12 would not go along with the rest.
“They’re never going to believe that justice was done in this case,” said Sempa of Williams’ family. “Their hearts are still broken.”
After Sempa’s comments, defense attorney James A. Swetz briefly responded, saying the defense “respects” the decision made by the jury.
With comments from counsel over, Caputo proceeded with sentencing.
Con-ui will be required to serve two life sentences without the possibility of release, one for each of the counts of first-degree murder that he was convicted of.
The sentences are to be served concurrently, but after he serves a sentence of 25 years to life for a 2002 conviction for a gang-initiation killing in Arizona.
Caputo also sentenced Con-ui to an additional five years, the maximum possible for the contraband charge.
Con-ui will be ineligible for any kind of supervised release.
After the sentencing, Swetz talked briefly to reporters. He said the case was hard for everyone, and the defense had tried to show great empathy to the Williams family throughout.
Prosecutors were more tight-lipped, walking by reporters and saying nothing.