Prosecutors may seek death penalty for slaying of officer


Published April 5, 2001

DETROIT (AP) Authorities said yesterday that they are considering filing federal death penalty charges against a 21-year-old ex-con in the ambush-slaying of a veteran undercover police officer.

Officer Neil Wells died Wednesday night when two bullets penetrated his bulletproof vest as he checked an apartment for drug activity. One bullet pierced his heart, homicide Inspector William Rice said.

Wells, a 15-year Detroit officer and divorced father of two teen-agers, was rushed by squad car to Sinai-Grace Hospital, where he died soon after. His father, Kenneth Wells, is a retired Detroit officer.

Police arrested three men, including a 21-year-old they said was the shooter. He was expected to be arraigned today on murder charges, police spokesman Officer Glen Woods said.

The suspect was wanted on a probation violation warrant. He was convicted of carjacking as a 16-year-old in 1996 and sentenced to juvenile detention. He was convicted of felonious assault in 1999 and placed on three years" probation.

Police said it was unclear if the other jailed men, ages 19 and 28, would be charged or were primarily considered witnesses.

According to police Lt. Roy McCalister, police and Wayne County prosecutors were considering a federal prosecution, with its possible death penalty. First-degree murder in Michigan carries an automatic penalty of life in prison without possibility of parole. The state has no death penalty.

A federal law allows the Justice Department to pursue the death penalty against suspects when a law enforcement officer is killed while investigating a drug operation, Rice said.

"The prosecutors are deciding now about federal charges," McCalister said yesterday.

Police recovered an AK-47 assault rifle they suspect was used in the crime, the Detroit Free Press said. They also seized another assault rifle, a 9mm pistol and a little cocaine, The Detroit News said.

Wells and partner Officer Michael Jackson were investigating reports of drug sales at the building on the city"s northwest side. When they entered a lobby, three men ran into one unit and shots were fired through the door.

"They never had a chance to fire their guns," police Chief Benny Napoleon said. "It was not a routine run. We had a bitter complaint of drug runs in this area. They were doing their job, doing an investigation, doing a very dangerous and tough job and that"s what happened."

Wells was part of the Booster Crew, which investigates high-crime areas.

"He liked nothing more than catching the bad guys and putting the criminals away," said police Inspector Gerald Cliff, who supervised Wells in 1995-98.

On Wells" desk was a bumper sticker that said, "Gun control means using both hands."