Published January 13, 2015
A Saudi Arabian man convicted in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya was sentenced to life in prison without parole Tuesday after a Manhattan jury deadlocked on sentencing him to death.
The anonymous New York jury deliberated for five days to decide the fate of Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali, 24, who had confessed to his role in the Aug. 7, 1998, attack on the embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.
The sentence came one day after Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh became the first person executed by the federal government since 1963. Under a 1996 federal law, prosecutors can seek the death penalty in terrorist murder cases.
The jury came back into the courtroom at about 2:40 p.m. EDT. Prior to the reading of the jury's decision, the defendant appeared relaxed as he sat smiling at the defense table. At one point, he held a copy of the Quran.
The lengthy "verdict sheet" used by the jurors to reach their decision indicated many shadings of opinion.
Ten jurors said they thought that executing Al-'Owhali could make him a martyr for the terrorist cause; nine said it would not relieve the victims' pain; four said they considered lethal injection to be humane; five considered life in prison a greater punishment; and four noted that he was raised in a different culture.
There was no exact breakdown of the jury vote.
"We the jury do not unanimously find that the death sentence is appropriate," the jury decided. "We understand that the consequence of this is that Al-'Owhali will be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release."
On Monday, the jurors sent out a note asking for instructions if they were unable to reach a unanimous decision on the death penalty. U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand instructed the jurors that they could simply indicate there was no agreement, and the defendant would instead receive life without parole.
The lengthy "verdict sheet" used by the jurors to reach their decision indicated that some of the panel felt a death sentence would make Al-'Owhali a martyr, while others felt life without parole was a harsher sentence.
The same jury will begin deliberating the fate of a second man convicted in a simultaneous bombing at the U.S. embassy in Tanzania in several days.
The last person sentenced to death in U.S. District Court in Manhattan was Gerhard A. Puff, a bank robber executed in 1954 for killing an FBI agent. One year earlier, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for nuclear espionage.
Earlier, the jury heard 26 survivors of the Nairobi blast recount the ruinous effects of the attack on their lives as prosecutors argued for Al-'Owhali's death. Several jurors wept as they listened to the witnesses' graphic recollections of the terrorist bombing.
"No one who heard that testimony could ever forget it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia reminded the jurors in his closing argument. In addition to the 213 deaths, the blast wounded another 5,000.
The attack in Kenya and the simultaneous bombing at the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.
In a confession recounted by an FBI agent during the trial, Al-'Owhali admitted to investigators that he and a second man rode a truck loaded with the bomb to the embassy in Kenya.
Although it was supposedly a suicide mission, Al-'Owhali jumped from the truck before it detonated, instead tossing stun grenades to distract embassy guards, according to his confession.
The United States, convinced Saudi millionaire bin Laden was behind the bombings, shot missiles afterward at locations in Afghanistan and the Sudan. Bin Laden, a fugitive, was indicted on conspiracy charges.
David Baugh, a lawyer for Al-'Owhali, urged the jurors to select the other option for his client: life in prison without parole. "Literally," he told them, "you have the power to speak to the world."
Al-'Owhali, who told the FBI that he grew up affluent in Saudi Arabia, confessed after his arrest that he was trained in Afghanistan and requested a mission during a personal meeting with bin Laden.
Prosecutors said his opportunity came when he was chosen to be among two suicide bombers in the Kenya attack.
The trial was expected to break for several days before a death penalty proceeding begins for defendant Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, the alleged bomb-maker in Tanzania.
Al-'Owhali, Mohamed and two others — Wadih El-Hage, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh — were convicted of all charges in a 302-count indictment on May 29. The same jury was reconvened for the penalty phase.
The indictment alleged that the men conspired with others in bin Laden's organization, al-Qaeda, to attack Americans anywhere they can be found to pressure the United States to stay out of the Middle East.
El-Hage and Odeh both face life in prison without parole when they are sentenced at a unspecified date.
The Associated Press contributed to this report