Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wilk had normal life, family testifies


Kenneth Wilk -- convicted last week in the slaying of a Broward sheriff's deputy -- grew up in a typical middle-class family who loved and cared about him, Wilk's father, Walter, testified Tuesday.

He was kind and generous and often performed random acts of kindness, testified his sister, Karen Marie.

Yet he was cold-blooded enough to take the life of a young sheriff's deputy who dedicated his life to protecting others' lives, prosecutor John Kastrenakes told the jury.

Late Tuesday afternoon, 12 jurors began deliberating whether Wilk should be executed for gunning down BSO Deputy Todd Fatta, who was ambushed by Wilk as Fatta and other law enforcement officers served a search warrant on Wilk's Fort Lauderdale home three years ago.

The jury's decision must be unanimous, and no one has been sentenced to death in Florida in a federal capital case.

It was standing room only in U.S. District Judge James Cohn's courtroom as spectators, many of them attorneys, heard arguments in the rare federal death penalty case, handled by two flamboyant lawyers who are considered at the top of their game.

Prosecutor John Kastrenakes tried to show that Wilk, 45, planned to kill Fatta, contending that Wilk had held a grudge against law enforcement officers long before he shot Fatta in the chest with a high-powered rifle on Aug. 19, 2004.

Kastrenakes read from a letter Wilk wrote in 2001: ``I get so angry I was to kill every cop I see.''

''This was premeditated murder,'' Kastrenakes said. ``He took the life of a person who dedicated his life protecting the community and that deserves the ultimate punishment.''

Kastrenakes reminded the jury that after shooting Fatta, Wilk walked out of his home with a smile on his face.

''You saw him testify,'' Kastrenakes said. ``There's nothing wrong with him except that he's evil.''

But defense attorney Bill Matthewman, who said his client was suffering from AIDS-related dementia, appealed to the jury to spare Wilk's life.

''If one of you says no, [that] there's been enough death, enough killing, Wilk will spend the rest of his life in prison. Life in prison permits redemption,'' Matthewman said.

He added that sentencing Wilk to life in prison is essentially like a death sentence, since Wilk will not be eligible for parole.

''In federal court, life in prison means life in prison,'' Matthewman said. ``He will walk into a federal prison and come out in a casket.''

Matthewman reminded the panel about the gravity of their task.

''Each one of you has the power to say no,'' Matthewman said.

Wilk's family, who appeared in court for the first time since the case began two months ago, described Wilk as having a normal upbringing.

But his father spoke softly as he told the jurors about learning his son was gay.
''I found out he had HIV and that he was gay on the same day,'' said Walter Wilk, who lives in Houston. ``I thought he was going to die.''

Before the lawyers spoke to the jury, Cohn read 29 pages of instructions.

Kastrenakes and Matthewman often referred to those instructions, reminding jurors that they must follow the letter of the law and determine if the aggravating factors of the crime outweigh the mitigating factors.

In other words, if the acts committed by Wilk were so horrific that any kindness he performed, or any illness that he suffered, did not outweigh the crime he committed.

Deliberations continue today.

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