April 10, 2007
Is capital case in the wrong place?
Michael Mayo, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
The defense of Kenneth Wilk for the 2004 killing of Broward Sheriff's Deputy
Todd Fatta amounts to this: Yeah I shot him, but it wasn't premeditated; I
have AIDS, I was temporarily insane, and the task force that came to arrest
me really botched the raid, so please, please don't give me the death
"This is a tragedy that could have been avoided," defense attorney Rafael
Rodriguez told jurors Monday. "Everything that could have gone wrong, did go
By the end of his opening statement, Rodriguez managed to turn the
cop-shooter with a child-porn-obsessed boyfriend into the victim.
"A deputy was killed and that was a tragedy," Rodriguez said. "What's also a
tragedy is that Mr. Wilk's life was destroyed because of this case."
I don't know how that's going to play with a jury.
But the fact that this capital murder case has landed here, in Fort
Lauderdale federal court, away from the television cameras and more open
rules of state court, makes me think the defendant isn't the only one
dealing with issues of guilt.
The Broward Sheriff's Office still hasn't explained the planning and
decision-making that led up to the fatal raid on Aug. 19, 2004. The
Sheriff's Office might have violated its own policies in not using a
better-equipped SWAT team that morning. Wilk was known to have weapons and a
history of antagonism against law enforcement.
Having this case go the unusual federal route allows the Sheriff's Office to
insulate itself from embarrassment a little longer.
Don't misunderstand. Sheriff's Office mistakes don't absolve Wilk. It just
would be nice for everyone, especially Fatta's family, to get the whole
But the rules are different in federal court. Details are easier to hide. In
state court, pre-trial depositions are public record. Not so in federal
The official line is that this case ended up in federal court because Fatta
was serving a federal warrant on behalf of a federal agency when he was
Ed Dion, an attorney for the Sheriff's Office who attended the trial Monday,
denied that the agency was using the federal system for cover. He said
federal courts might offer swifter justice than the state, a consideration
since Wilk claims to be dying of AIDS.
Dion also said Wilk could be prosecuted in state court on different charges
if he's acquitted in federal court.
But if the goal is to get a death-penalty conviction the first time, the
state system has lower hurdles and more experienced prosecutors.
Florida has not had a federal death-penalty conviction since Congress
reauthorized capital punishment in 1988. Since that time, there have been
three federal executions.
Florida has executed 64 people since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that states could again impose the death penalty.
This is the first time the Broward State Attorney's Office has not
prosecuted the slaying of a Broward law enforcement officer. State Attorney
Mike Satz usually likes to personally prosecute these cases. Since 1990,
Satz has been 3-for-3 in death-penalty cop-killing convictions, although one
case was reduced to life in prison on appeal.
Fatta's parents, brother and two sisters were in U.S. District Judge James
Cohn's courtroom on Monday. His mother, Josephine, dabbed tears from her
eyes when prosecutor John Kastrenakes recounted her son's final moments, cut
down by a single bullet that pierced his protective vest when he entered
Fatta's family has filed a wrongful-death suit against the Sheriff's Office,
but the case is on hold until Wilk's trial is over.
Sheriff Ken Jenne was quick to show up at Fatta's family's side after his
death, but he wasn't in court on Monday.
Maybe Jenne, whose business activities are being investigated by a federal
grand jury, figures he might be spending more time at the federal courthouse
Let's hope the Fatta family's time here isn't in vain. They deserve justice.
And answers, too.
Source : South Florida Sun-Sentinel