Two men who killed a Philadelphia cop inside a North Philly GameStop in 2015 pleaded guilty and accepted a sentence that guarantees neither will ever again set foot outside prison walls.
Brothers Carlton Hipps, 32, and Ramone Williams, 27, each got a sentence of life plus 50 to 100 years for killing Sgt. Robert Wilson III to death at the tail end of their spree of some eight armed robberies. They also ceded their rights to appeal the sentence as part of the plea deal.
But family and friends of Wilson expressed outrage at the deal during Williams and Hipps’ sentencing hearing on Monday, criticizing Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner for not pursuing the death penalty and taking the pair to trial.
“They failed my brother completely, without question,” said Shakìra Wilson-Burroughs, sister of the 30-year-old father of two who was shot to death on March 5, 2015. “He upheld honor, integrity. I can’t say the same for this DA’s office. It’s truly a mockery. What I heard today benefitted them. There’s no way this case should have result in a plea. There’s no way."
Krasner, who while campaigning pledged to never seek the death penalty, defended his decision after the hearing. He noted most death penalty sentences — like that of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, which was later commuted to a sentence of life in prison without parole — result in decades of appeals and costly taxpayer-funded litigation, not execution.
“People who get a death sentence in Philadelphia die of natural causes in custody, and they do that whether they have a sentence of death by incarceration, which is life without the possibility of parole, or they have a sentence of death. It’s the same outcome,” Krasner said.
On March 5, 2015, Wilson was in the GameStop at 21st and Lehigh to buy a video game for his son when Hipps and Williams ran inside to rob it, not knowing an officer was inside. Wilson moved toward the suspects, drawing their attention away from other customers inside the store, and started to pull his gun before both fired on him. When they fled outside, Wilson’s partner, Officer Damien Stevenson, opened fire, striking Hipps in the leg. Williams ran back into the store and attempted to pretend to be a customer, although he was quickly pointed out by other people inside the store as a shooter. Both were arrested minutes after murdering Wilson and have been in custody ever since.
“I remember you laying on the ground after I shot you. Remember what you said?” Stevenson said to Hipps during a victim-impact statement at the sentencing hearing. “He said, ‘Please don’t kill me.’ So I handcuffed him. I did my job, because I thought the system would take care of the rest. I kicked him in his face 10 f------ times, but I spared his life.”
Wilson was honored as a hero after his death. He was posthumously promoted to sergeant, awarded the Philadelphia medal of valor, which was renamed the Robert F Wilson medal and awarded the US Medal of Valor, which President Barack Obama gave to his mother Constance Wilson in 2016.
“Robby went down. You kept shooting,” Constance Wilson said at the sentencing. “Two on one. Remember that. But Robby wasn’t scared.”
Eleven friends, family and fellow officers remembered Wilson at the sentencing hearing, which was attended by former Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Richard Ross, as a “fantastic person,” who was described as “the nicest guy you ever knew,” someone with “the brightest smile you could ever see,” and who “was always there for you.”
Hipps made no comment, but Ramone Williams apologized to the Wilsons before being sentenced.
“I caused a lot of pain and grief to your family. I’m deeply sorry for that,” he said. “All I can do is take responsibility … and hope the process of healing will begin for your family. … I robbed these two young men of their father. Because of me, they will have to go through life without that fatherly bond. Truly, deeply, sincerely, I am sorry.”
Pennsylvania currently has 149 male inmates on death row, but the death penalty is halted pending a moratorium ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf pending further review of the legal issues surrounding capital punishment, and on Monday a state report on the issue was released detailing the complications of capital punishment. Since 1978, only three people have been executed, Leon Moser, Keith Zettlemoyer, and Gary Heidnik, all of whom waived their appeals and were found by the state report to have “psychiatric problems.” But just a year ago, a Pike County jury sentenced Eric Frein to death for shooting Pennsylvania state police corporal Byron Dickson in 2014 as part of a bizarre plot to initiate a “revolution.”