MOMENTS AFTER the jury forewoman announced yesterday that he would die for murdering a Philadelphia police officer, John "Jordan" Lewis - in a calm voice that competed with his mother's sobs - asked his victim's family to somehow forgive him.

"I take this sentence with honor for Chuck, for my family and for the choices I made. I really don't know what I can say to anyone in here to make you forgive me," began the burly high school dropout.

"I apologize deeply. Words can not even express . . . I just pray that one day you find it in your heart, somehow, some way, to forgive me," he added.

Judy Cassidy, the widow of Officer Chuck Cassidy, minutes earlier told Lewis that in her house he is known as "the a--hole" because she can not bear to speak his name.

"In my eyes, there is nothing in this world that could make up for what you have taken from us," she said, as her three children listened from the front row. "You have shattered our dreams, you have shattered our lives."

In the tone of a disapproving teacher, Cassidy told Lewis that his bad choices to drop out of school, to not get an honest job, to become an armed robber and to assassinate her husband have doomed him.

"So, you have made many choices and they will stay with you for the rest of your life. In our eyes, you are the worst of the worst."

It took the Common Pleas Court jury about an hour to reach its unanimous verdict, which was read at 1:45 p.m. before an overflow audience that included Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and dozens of officers of all ranks.

Judge Jeffrey Minehart immediately formally sentenced Lewis, a step in the court process that often takes place weeks later.

In addition to imposing the death sentence, Minehart tacked on 76 to 152 years for the six armed robberies the defendant committed in the weeks leading up to the murder.

He will be executed by injection at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, in Centre County, the judge said.

Ramsey said Lewis got what he deserved, while lamenting that the death sentence would not bring back the family man and "tremendous police officer" that the 25-year veteran was.

"Some people, unfortunately, are just idiots and thugs, and they do as they do and they give no real thought to it. But at least this guy will not be out to hurt anybody else," Ramsey said after leaving the courtroom.

"I would hope that people paid attention to [the verdict], but I can't say with confidence that they have. Unfortunately, we have four more trials next year," the commissioner added, alluding to other recently slain officers.

"Whatever happens to him, the sentence was fair and just," John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, said after leaving the Criminal Justice Center.

Michael Coard, Lewis' lead defense attorney, said he would appeal the death sentence, which he branded as "absolute hypocrisy" to take a life for a life.

Lynn Dyches, Lewis' mother, who is employed as a Philadelphia prison correctional officer, was shielded by relatives as she fled the courthouse without commenting.

Lewis, of North Philadelphia, went on a crime rampage in fall 2007 during which he robbed four Dunkin' Donuts and two pizza parlors.

That Oct. 31, during the sixth and final holdup, at the Dunkin' Donuts at Broad Street near 66th Avenue, he fatally shot Cassidy as the officer drew his gun.

Cassidy, 54, died the next day. His heart and other organs were donated to transplant patients, it was revealed during the emotion-drenched trial that lasted a week and a half.

After hearing from more than 40 witnesses and watching video of the murder last week, the jury of eight women and four men was asked to decide if Lewis was guilty of premeditated, first-degree murder or second-degree murder, which is committed during the commission of another crime. The latter carries a mandatory life sentence with no parole.

The nine white and three African-American jurors chose first-degree murder in almost as little time as their decision yesterday that Lewis should die rather than live in prison.

The death verdict will be automatically reviewed by the state Supreme Court. The court can either uphold the sentence or vacate for imposition of a life sentence without a parole, according to state law.

If the verdict is upheld, Lewis would be the 222nd person currently on Pennsylvania's death row, the 14th condemned for murdering a law-enforcement officer and the seventh who has murdered a Philadelphia cop, according to the Department of Corrections.

During closing arguments yesterday morning, Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron told the jurors that condemning a man to death is not an easy thing to do, but in the case of Lewis, it is necessary.

"He's willing to place the value of money over the value of human life," Cameron said, holding a $10 bill and glaring at Lewis, who exercised his right not to testify on his own behalf.

Defense attorney Bernard Siegel, speaking in a soft, grandfatherly tone, said Lewis was remorseful, which led him to plead guilty to the six armed robberies and to a general murder count on the eve of the trial.

Banishment to prison for life would be a sufficient punishment for the troubled man whose own father was murdered when he was 5 years old, Siegel tried to convince the jury.

"Is this person too evil to live? Is he the worst of the worst? He stood before you and said, 'I did it.' Is he in the category of serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy?"

In condemning Lewis, the jury forewoman said that the panel had found mitigating circumstances to spare his life but also found three aggravating circumstances that carried more weight: Lewis killed a police officer in the line of duty; he committed the murder in the commission of another crime; and he has a significant history of violent felony convictions, as a result of the armed robberies.

The verdict came so quickly "because the evidence was so overwhelming. The defense did a great job, but they didn't have a lot to work with," Cameron, a prosecutor for 28 years, said outside court.

"We are gratified that the jury came back so quickly and gave the family peace and closure and that they followed the law," said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber.

Defense attorney Coard said that he would file a post-sentence motion with Judge Minehart within 10 days seeking a new trial for his client.

Among the "reversible errors" Coard said that he will cite are that the judge allowed too much irrelevant, sympathetic testimony into evidence; that the first five robberies should not have been part of the trial, and that the prosecution should not have been allowed to show the jury a slow-motion version of the murder video because it unfairly exaggerated its case that Lewis had enough time in one to two seconds to formulate the premeditated intent to kill.

"The prosecution had a strong case, so why muddy the waters with irrelevant evidence that gives the defendant grounds for appeal?" Coard said during a phone interview. If Minehart rejects the motion, an appeal will be filed with the state Supreme Court, he said.

Judy Cassidy, flanked by her family on her eldest daughter Katie's birthday, told reporters that she was glad the trial was over but that the pain would never be.

"Like I said in court, there are no winners today. It doesn't make us feel any better," she said, her eyes behind dark shades on a cloudy day. "We go home now and still deal with this."