THE FEDERAL JURY that last week convicted North Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage of 12 counts of murder began hearing arguments yesterday for his execution or for spending what's left of his life in an 8-by-10-foot cell in a "supermax" prison in Florence, Colo.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer portrayed him as a vengeful, rage-filled, unrepentant murderer. Defense attorney William Purpura told the jurors that Savage was a victim of the mean streets after losing his father to cancer at age 13, but that he had grown into a mentor for his children and his older sister's children.

Savage, 38, clad in an olive-green, one-piece prison jumpsuit, appeared to be jotting notes during the several hours of opening statements in the penalty phase of his trial, which could last a couple of weeks. The trial began Feb. 4.

The onetime amateur boxer last week was convicted of carrying out or ordering the murders of 12 people from March 1998 to October 2004, when six relatives of Savage drug associate Eugene Coleman were murdered in a home firebombing that Savage ordered from his federal jail cell. The victims included four children.

Prosecutors successfully argued that Savage ordered the early-morning firebombing to keep Coleman from testifying against him during a drug-racketeering trial. Savage was convicted in 2005 and was sentenced in 2006 to 30 years in federal prison.

"He slaughtered and burned up children just to get back at a witness. Then he laughed about it," said Troyer, who reminded the jurors of the numerous jail phone calls they heard during the trial of Savage ranting and raving about killing his "rat" drug rivals, their mothers and children.

Among the eight statutory aggravating factors that prosecutors presented to justify a death sentence were: the cruel and depraved manner of the murders, that he paid others to commit some of the killings, that some of his victims were defenseless children, that all 12 murders were planned and premeditated and that he killed multiple victims during one criminal act.

U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick read to the jury a list of 25 mitigating factors that the defense will present in arguing for a life sentence.

They included: that others who participated in the Coleman murders are not facing death sentences; that at age 13 Savage lost his father and protector to lung cancer; that after his father's death, he fell under the sway of a half brother and a family friend who were drug dealers; that he was raised in a North Philly neighborhood plagued by drugs and violence; and that while behind bars he has not harmed another inmate or guard nor tried to escape.

"This is not an excuse, but it's the whole story," Purpura said of the reasons why Savage should get a life sentence instead of death.

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