A Cairo court on Sunday imposed the first death sentence in the killing of protesters during the popular uprising that deposed President Hosni Mubarak, condemning a police officer who was tried in absentia.

It was the first such sentence in over a dozen court cases involving police shooting and killing protesters. Lawyers said because the officer, Mohammed Mahmoud, was tried in absentia, the court felt free to pass the maximum sentence. Once he is arrested, Mahmoud would get a new trial, human rights lawyer Taher Abou el-Nasr said.

Mahmoud, a low ranking police officer, was convicted of killing at least 20 protesters and injuring many by randomly firing his rifle.

The families of the victims outside the courtroom in Cairo broke out in cheers upon hearing the news. Some shouted: "God is Great."

An Islamic cleric has to approve the sentence, and then the court would ratify it.

During the 18-day uprising that ended with Mubarak's exit on Feb. 11, at least 846 protesters were killed, according government records.

Egypt's former security chief and his top aides are facing trial on charges of issuing orders to shoot and kill protesters. Mubarak himself may face similar charges, but the investigation against him is still in progress..