The man who killed West Seneca native and Florida Sheriff's Deputy Todd Fatta in an ambush three years ago likely will die in prison -- following a federal jury's split verdict that has left the family with mixed feelings.
Last week, a federal jury in South Florida rejected the death penalty against Kenneth Wilk, 45, after convicting him of first-degree murder a week earlier.
Wilk shot and killed Fatta, 33, a West Seneca West High School graduate and a deputy with the Broward County Sheriff's Office, as the deputy served a search warrant looking for child pornography in Wilk's Fort Lauderdale home in August 2004.
"We feel justice has been done," Joseph L. Fatta, the deputy's brother, said Monday by phone from Florida. "However, we are greatly disappointed with the jury not giving him the death penalty. We feel there would be a lot better closure that way."
The jury's ruling against the death penalty left Fatta's mother doubled over in her courtroom seat, sobbing, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
"My son is buried in a crypt, and he [Wilk] gets life," Josephine Fatta said, according to newspaper and family accounts. "It's not fair. It's not fair."
Fatta's brother explained why the family feels that way.
"The death penalty is part of the law," he said. "We felt with the overwhelming amount of evidence, the death penalty was appropriate. If there was ever justice for the death penalty, this was it."
In arguing for the death penalty, Joseph Fatta cited both the ambush and Wilk's well-documented hatred for police officers. Prosecutors have claimed that Wilk wanted to harm police officers for what he claimed were unfair child pornography charges against his lover.
"It's like treating cancer," Joseph Fatta said. "You try to radiate it, to remove it. You can't feel sorry for it and leave part of it behind. You have to remove it."
But Joseph Fatta also said his family appreciates that Wilk was convicted of first-degree murder, meaning that he now is sentenced to life in prison.
"We're definitely pleased that this man will be put away without the opportunity to be released," he said. "He definitely will die in prison. We are happy that he won't be on the streets."
Wilk has AIDS, and his attorney had argued that the federal government was wasting its resources pursuing the death penalty against such a sick man.
"I shouldn't feel pity for that," Joseph Fatta said. "Those were his choices. It was his choice to practice unprotected sex. It was his choice to live with a gay partner who pursued 11- and 12-year-old boys. Whatever choices he made were self-inflicted."
Todd Fatta was a 1989 graduate of West Seneca West. After earning his associate's degree in criminal justice from Erie Community College, he went into the Air Force, serving as an Air Police officer in Albuquerque, N.M., before joining the Broward County Sheriff's Office in 1995, his family said.
Among the survivors are his parents, Joseph and Josephine; two sisters, Colleen and Linda Kirtley; and his brother, Joseph.
"Todd would not only want us to go on, but he would demand that we do so," his older brother said. "It tore us apart to sit in the courtroom every day and relive the horrific events. We felt anger, sadness and disbelief, but we are grateful it is all over.
"And we feel Todd is with us."