The Philadelphia jury that this week convicted two men in a triple killing deadlocked Friday afternoon over whether to sentence them to death.
"The jury is hung," Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn Bronson was told in a note, "and there is no end in sight."
As required by law, Bronson then dismissed the jury and sentenced Ibrahim Muhammed and Nalik Scott to three consecutive terms of life in prison without parole.
The men were found guilty of killing Porfirio Nunez, 50; his wife, Juana, 44; and his sister Lina Sanchez, 48, during a robbery of their family bodega in 2011. The killings took place in front of the Nunezes' teenage daughters, who were working the cash register at the time, and identified Muhammed and Scott from the witness stand during the trial.
Bronson sentenced both men to an additional 50 to 100 years in prison on robbery and conspiracy charges.
"It's an unspeakable, incomprehensible crime," Bronson said. "I've been doing this a long time, and it's hard to imagine a more terrible crime. These three people's lives were taken in an outrageous manner, a manner I am completely incapable of understanding."
The men's defense attorneys said that their clients are innocent, and that they plan to appeal the conviction. During the trial, they argued that crime-scene evidence from other robberies connected to the killings and discrepancies in eyewitness accounts showed police, eager to close the case, had arrested the wrong men.
Prosecutor Carlos Vega argued on Friday that the crimes were so heinous that Muhammed and Scott deserved death. The defense asked the jury to show leniency.
"The verdict is your opinion based on the law, but that doesn't make it the truth," Scott's defense attorney, Jack McMahon, told the jury, saying Scott was a family man with a good reputation in his community. "Do not be too eager to deal out death. This penalty is irrevocable."
Muhammed's defense attorney, Anthony Voci, said his client had a chaotic, traumatic upbringing and a history of schizophrenia. The defense had argued during the trial that Muhammed's confession to the murders was false because he was off his medication.
Voci referenced the symbol of justice, saying, "She is blind because Ibrahim Muhammed is to be treated no differently than anyone else."
Vega referenced the symbol of justice in his closing argument as well.
"She's blindfolded and holding the scales of justice," he said. "But think about what's in her other hand. A sword. And that is a sword for the protection of the innocent and for the punishment of the guilty."
He said many people with difficult childhoods do not go on to commit murder, and said Scott was a violent drug dealer whose testimony on his own behalf Thursday was "arrogant."
Scott told the Nunez family at a sentencing hearing Thursday that he felt no remorse for the crime because he did not commit it, and said he hoped the real killers would be found.
The jury deliberated for about two hours before telling Bronson it could not reach a decision.
Larry Krasner, who also defended Muhammed, said he was relieved by the outcome and preparing for an appeal. "Our only complaint is, he's innocent, and that's a big one," he said.
Prosecutor Kirk Handrich called the conclusion of the trial "a weight lifted."
"It was a good verdict, a correct verdict, and an appropriate sentence," he said.
In the courtroom hallway after the hearing concluded, Jessica Nunez, now 24, wiped away tears. She and her family had waited nearly five years for the case to go to trial. After Tuesday's convictions, she said, she and her family had prayed the jury would not sentence Muhammed and Scott to death.
"We don't believe in it," she said. "It was never in our minds."
The family had not made plans for the Christmas holiday, she said, thinking they would still be in court. Now they were leaving the courthouse for the last time.
"We just plan to stay together, like always," she said.