SCRANTON, Pa. – Opening statements are scheduled Monday in federal court in the death penalty trial of an inmate charged in a Pennsylvania federal prison guard’s death more than four years ago.
Jessie Con-ui, 40, is charged in the February 2013 stabbing death of corrections officer Eric Williams at the Canaan federal prison in Waymart. Williams, 34, was working in a housing unit at the prison when he was attacked. Con-ui was angry after the guard ordered a search of his cell the previous day and stabbed the victim more than 200 times, authorities allege.
Prosecutors are expected to show jurors surveillance video they say indicates the attack was premediated. They allege that Con-ui stopped the attack to walk over to a shower, clean a cut on his hand and wrap it before continuing the attack. They say he also paused to chew a piece of gum he took from the dying guard’s pocket before returning to his cell.
Defense attorneys haven’t disputed their client killed the victim but are opposing the death penalty. They say the stabbing was retaliation for mistreatment by guards, not the calculated slaying prosecutors contend.
A judge also ruled Friday that jurors can hear most, but not all, of the defendant’s alleged statements after the slaying. Officers who followed a bloody trail to Con-ui’s cell reported seeing him holding a clear, plastic knife and asked if he killed Williams, and they said he responded “Yes, disrespect issue.”
The judge said he will allow that and similar statements allegedly made inside the cell, but blocked prosecutors from using a statement about the defendant’s demeanor as well as statements to a prison psychologist.
Should Con-ui be convicted of first-degree murder, the trial would move to a penalty phase in which jurors would decide whether he should spend life in prison or be executed.
Since the slaying, Con-ui has been at a super-maximum security prison in Colorado where he’s serving 25 years to life for a 2002 gang initiation murder in Arizona.