An inmate murdered a prison guard and received no added punishment – a new bill could change that
EXCLUSIVE – Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz introduced a bill that would provide further justice to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
Cruz is pushing a new law that would give prosecutors more power to seek the death penalty in cases where someone is convicted of murdering a federal law enforcement officer.
Cruz told Fox News Digital the bill would prevent cases such as a 2013 incident in Pennsylvania, where an inmate serving a life sentence killed federal correctional officer Eric Williams – and received no additional punishment.
“Eric’s Law,” introduced Tuesday, is named after Williams, who was stabbed more than 200 times with two shanks by the inmate, who briefly paused during the 11-minute attack to take gum from the officer’s pocket and chew it.
The convict was already serving a life sentence for a gang-related murder when he killed the officer and received the same sentence for killing Williams because a jury was deadlocked over whether to sentence him to death.
“Eric Williams had his life taken from him through the actions of a vicious criminal. Eric’s family similarly had justice taken from them through the inability of a jury to reach a unanimous decision,” Cruz exclusively told Fox News Digital.
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“Our brave men and women in uniform—like corrections officers, police, sheriff’s deputies, and federal law enforcement—undertake a tremendous risk to their safety each and every day, and this bill will ensure justice is done in those terrible instances where their life is taken from them,” Cruz said. “We must do everything in our power to prevent this kind of tragedy from recurring, and that is why I am proud to introduce this legislation.”
The inmate, Jessie Con-Ui, was found guilty in 2017 of murdering Williams, but he did not receive a death sentence for the killing because one juror out of the 12 was a holdout.
Prison officials spoke out soon after the sentencing, sounding off the lack of capital punishment in the case put a target on the backs of law enforcement officers and signaled “it’s OK to kill federal corrections officers,” the Times Leader reported at the time.
The bill, which was co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, would allow, but not require, federal prosecutors to impanel a second jury if the first jury is unable to come to a decision on a death penalty sentencing. The law would only apply to capital sentencing hearings.
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The bill has received support from various law enforcement groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Council of Prison Locals, the National Association of Police Organizations, as well as the slain correctional officer’s father.
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FOP President Patrick Yoes told Fox News Digital that “when justice is not served in the murder of a federal law enforcement officer, it sends a message throughout the ranks of law enforcement that their sacrifice, up to and including the loss of their own life, is meaningless.”
“Under current Federal law, the murder of a federal law enforcement officer is a capital offense. However, if the officer’s killer is found guilty of murder and the federal prosecutor seeks the death penalty in the sentencing phase, the jury must consider and vote on whether to impose it. Unfortunately, the decision of the jury must be unanimous—a single dissenting juror can prevent justice from being served,” Yoes continued.
Don Williams – Eric Williams’ father and the president of the non-profit Voices of J.O.E., which stands up for fallen correctional officers and seeks to create safer prisons – said that under current federal law, “a lone juror can make a biased decision that becomes irreversible.”
“This is not in keeping with the spirit of our ‘trial by jury.’ Eric’s Law allows that, just as in the guilt phase of a trial, during the sentencing phase if a jury deadlocks, the prosecution has the right to retry the case. This allows for a fair and equal system in our courts for the victims’ family as it does for the accused,” he said.
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The new bill is modeled after state laws already on the books in California and Arizona. The presidents of both the Law Enforcement Officers Association and the National Council of Prison Locals said they “applaud” Cruz for introducing the bill.
“This essential piece of legislation brings a common sense approach to both Officer safety and the rights of the victims of violent crime,” Shane Fausey, the national president of the National Council of Prison Locals, said.
Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said that if the bill is passed into law, it would “ensure the full weight of the justice system can be brought to bear against some of our nation’s most dangerous criminals, particularly those that target law enforcement.”
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Con-Ui, 46, is currently being held at ADX Florence in Colorado, a supermax prison nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”
The inmate said during his trial he was “sorry” that the killing caused “heartache and pain” and that he will always “feel shame for taking an innocent man’s life.” In previous testimony, he indicated that he killed Williams because he felt disrespected, according to the Times Leader at the time of the trial and sentencing.
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“The goal of the legislation is to seek unanimity in sentencing recommendations, whether that recommendation be for capital punishment, life in prison, or a lesser punishment. NAPO thanks Senator Cruz for his leadership on this important bill,” Bill Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said.
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