The last prisoner on New York's Death Row escaped execution Tuesday, effectively burying capital punishment in the state and leaving kin of his victims furious.
The Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional Wendy's killer John Taylor's death sentence for masterminding the massacre in the Queens fast-food restaurant in 2000.
Taylor and an accomplice, Craig Godineaux, lined up seven Wendy's workers in the basement of the Flushing eatery, blindfolded them and shot them in the head before stealing $2,400. Only two survived.
"I think about my brother every day," said Benjamin Nazario, 53, whose younger sibling Ramon, 44, was among the dead. "Taylor's getting away with murder. He executed my brother, he should be executed."
Taylor, 43, appealed his sentence after a 2004 ruling by the state's highest court that a passage in the law made New York's death penalty illegal. The shortcoming required judges to tell jurors that if they deadlocked, the defendant would be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Critics said that instruction could induce jurors to go for the death penalty rather than risk putting murderers back on the streets.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown argued that Taylor's judge anticipated the problem and told the jury he would "almost certainly impose" a sentence keeping Taylor in prison for the rest of his life.
But in a decision that was split 4-to-3, the court disagreed, declaring the trial charge instruction "coercive."
Brown said there is no doubt that the murders were "one of the most brutal and horrific crimes this city has ever seen."
But he added, "Our state's highest court has now spoken - albeit not with one voice - and it is for all of us to respect its decision."
Taylor will be resentenced to life without parole, the same sentence Godineaux is already serving.
"The [judges] who voted for this, if it was a member of their family who died, they would think like we do now," said Nazario, who still lives in Queens.
"My brother's son is 10 years old. He wants to know why his dad died? Our mother passed away this year. I'm glad she's not here to see this."
The death penalty was reinstated by Gov. George Pataki in 1995, but hasn't been carried out since. The last person to be executed in New York was in 1963, when Eddie Lee Mays went to the electric chair for killing a woman.