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 in Detroit 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 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. 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 outside court.
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.
“We all know that Norman Stephens’ life had value and his death caused enormous pain,” Kammen told jurors on Tuesday. “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 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.
“Anthony Stephens was wrongfully and brutally murdered … and his murderer, Timothy O’Reilly, should pay the ultimate price,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Chadwell said during closing arguments of the sentencing phase.
Duncan, too, faces a possible death sentence when he goes to trial in Stephens’ death.
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.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)