MANHATTAN (CN) — A federal jury delivered a guilty-on-all-counts verdict Thursday against a former corrections officer who kicked an inmate at Rikers Island to death.
Ronald Spear died on Dec. 19, 2012, in the infirmary at Rikers Island where he had sought treatment for his late-stage renal and kidney disease.
Growing frustrated with his denial of care, Spear got into a heated altercation with corrections officer Brian Coll. It is undisputed that Spear started the fight, but also that the inmate was sickly and walked with a cane.
Prosecutors say other Rikers guards had already de-escalated the situation – holding Spear face-down on the ground with his hands behind his back – when Coll started kicking the inmate in the face repeatedly.
Just before the inmate died, Coll allegedly pulled up Spear’s head to deliver a chilling warning.
“That’s what you get for fucking with me,” Coll has been quoted as saying. “Remember that I’m the one who did this to you.”
In connection to Thursday’s verdict, the 42-year-old Coll could spend the rest of his life in prison.
At summations Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brooke Cucinella told the court that, for years after the jailhouse killing, Coll kept a Village Voice newspaper article with a picture of his victim framed in his bedroom.
“Let’s call it what it is: a trophy,” Cucinella said.
Cucinella urged the jury to show no hesitation in convicting.
“We’re here to finally, finally hold the defendant, that man, accountable,” she said, pointing at Coll.
In addition to the newspaper article, Cucinella said the guard had joked to his colleagues that he should get a tear-drop tattoo, a well-known gang symbol to signify that one has killed someone.
Coll’s attorney Sam Schmidt meanwhile spoke only of the “alleged” blows in his closing argument, though the jury heard from multiple eyewitnesses that Coll killed Spear.
One key witness for the government, corrections officer Anthony Torres, wept on the witness stand for two days as he described Spear’s death and his own role in covering up what happened.
Depicting a brutal assault, Torres said Coll had kicked Spear’s head as if trying to make a “field goal” with a football.
But Schmidt insisted that the autopsy evidence proves otherwise.
“These are not football kicks,” Schmidt said. “There is absolutely no proof of what Mr. Torres says.”
Speaking of his client, Schmidt said: “We’re talking about a man who was attacked, who defended himself, and who was embarrassed and humiliated by a sick inmate putting him on the ground.”
Among graphic autopsy photographs, the prosecution focused on images that showed Spear’s skin pulled down his face to expose his brain, which appeared to be dotted with bloody hemorrhages.
New York City Medical Examiner Michael Greenberg had testified that those red spots showed Spear had been alive before the beating.
Torres and fellow correction officer Byron Taylor both pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice trial kicked off on Dec. 2. They are awaiting sentencing for their charges.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska presided over the trial.