The jury considering the fate of a terrorist convicted of killing 213 people in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, signaled Monday that it may be deadlocked over whether to impose a death sentence or life in prison without parole.
After more than three days of deliberations, the jury sent a note to U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand, stating that the verdict form "has no room to indicate if the jury is not unanimous."
Sand replied in writing that a hung jury meant life imprisonment for 24-year-old Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali. He urged the jurors to continue pondering the fate of al-'Owhali, a native of Saudi Arabia, "until you are fully satisfied that no further discussion will lead to a unanimous verdict in favor of death."
Al-'Owhali and three other defendants--all followers of Islamic militant Osama bin Laden--were convicted May 29 after a three-month trial in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed a total of 224 people.
Bin Laden also was indicted and is believed to be living under the protection of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The almost simultaneous attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, injured more than 4,500 people.
The jury sent its note to the judge during the lunch recess Monday, causing court personnel to scramble to bring interpreters into the third-floor courtroom where al-'Owhali, prosecution and defense lawyers have been awaiting a verdict.
After reading the handwritten message, Frederick H. Cohn--a member of the defense team--contended the note constituted a deadlock notice and essentially a verdict, an argument he quickly lost.
"There is no word to indicate the jury is not unanimous," Sand said before drafting, with the advice of lawyers for both sides, his reply.
"The consequences of a lack of unanimity on death is a verdict for life in prison," the judge said.
At the same time, he spelled out procedures should the jury be unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The judge said the seven women and five men, whose identities have been kept secret throughout the trial, should write the following on the verdict form:
"We the jury do not unanimously find that the death sentence is appropriate. We understand that the consequence of this is that al-'Owhali will be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release."