Death penalty defendant gets life in prison

DETROIT (AP) — A man convicted in the murder of an armored-truck courier dodged the federal death penalty Wednesday and will serve life in prison after jurors failed to unanimously agree on the harsher punishment.

The jury of 10 women and two men was not unanimous on death or life in prison. But under federal law, the judge will automatically impose a life sentence without parole on Timothy O’Reilly.

Michigan’s Constitution forbids the death penalty in state court, but it’s an option for murders prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department in federal court.

The government alleged that O’Reilly shot Norman "Anthony" Stephens in the back after he was already wounded and on the ground outside Dearborn Federal Credit Union in Dearborn in 2001. He and others got away with $204,000.

There was no dispute that O’Reilly, 37, was there, but his defense team argued that there was doubt over who did the shooting.

"The jury saved his life and we are humbled by the effort they put in," lead defense lawyer Richard Kammen told The Associated Press.

Jurors declined to comment at the courthouse. An alternate juror, Norio Stephens — no relation to the victim — said four were in favor of death. He spoke to reporters after meeting with jurors and U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts.

Norman Stephens’ widow, Robyn Stephens, said she favored death for O’Reilly "but I’m not the jury."

Jurors deliberated for six hours, poring over a detailed, 29-page verdict form. They said they couldn’t unanimously find that O’Reilly intentionally killed Stephens or inflicted serious injury.

Kammen had repeatedly portrayed O’Reilly as a "clueless" individual who lived with his parents in Camarillo, Calif., until the late 1990s when he moved to Michigan at the urging of a fellow car buff and Detroit native, Norman Duncan.

He claimed that O’Reilly was easy to manipulate and fell under the spell of Duncan, who faces his own trial in the months ahead. Indeed, all jurors found that he was "particularly vulnerable" to Duncan.

"We all know that Norman Stephens’ life had value and his death caused enormous pain," Kammen told jurors Tuesday as he pleaded for prison. "But you don’t have to add to the pain, you don’t have to add to the grief … to do justice."

O’Reilly’s own words helped convict him on Aug. 3: He had boasted about the murder and even laughed in a secretly recorded conversation in 2004 with an inmate in state prison. Prosecutors called the tape the "most damning" piece of evidence.

Years later and while awaiting trial, O’Reilly showed no remorse and told his family that he would beat the charge, according to phone calls recorded in jail. He didn’t testify during the guilt or sentencing phases of the case.

In his closing argument this week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Chadwell said O’Reilly "should pay the ultimate price."

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade issued a statement saying she respected the jury’s work.

"We hope that the Stephens family can take some comfort in knowing that the defendant will spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of release," she said.

O’Reilly’s father, Patrick O’Reilly, said jurors made the right decision.

"He was there. He shouldn’t have been and he’s going to pay the price," the elder O’Reilly told AP, referring to the robbery and a life sentence.

At the time of his death, Stephens, 30, was hoping to move his family to Philipp, Miss., where he grew up, to live in his late father’s house and escape the pressures of a major urban area. In 1997, he married a single mother of three young boys in Detroit and the couple had two girls of their own. He also has a son who lives in Mississippi.

The last federal death sentence in Michigan was in 2002, when Marvin Gabrion was convicted of killing a woman in a national forest. He is on U.S. death row in Terre Haute, Ind., and appealing the case.


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