How do you humanize a man responsible for 12 murders?

Call neighbors who remember him as a polite, cheerful boy. Present an expert to outline the many societal factors that led him into violence. Let one of his children tell jurors what a loving, supportive father he has been.

And don't let Kaboni Savage speak for himself.

That was the strategy Tuesday as Savage's lawyers called their final witnesses - but not their client - in a bid to spare the druglord from execution.

On Wednesday, the federal court jury of nine women and three men is expected to hear closing arguments and then take a week's worth of evidence behind closed doors in Center City. They will emerge only after deciding whether Savage should be executed or spend life in prison for committing or ordering 12 killings, including witnesses and relatives of witnesses he saw as threats to his North Philadelphia drug empire.

For three days, defense attorneys William Purpura and Christian Hoey called witnesses to show Savage, 38, was not inherently evil and still had value as a human being. "He was a cheerful, playful child," said Brenda White, who lived next door to the Savage family for 42 years.

Lori James-Townes, a Baltimore-based social worker and defense mitigation expert, told jurors that Savage's background included many characteristics - poverty, loss of a parent, exposure to drugs and crime - that have been touted as predictors of violence in youths.

James-Townes said she reviewed Savage's medical and school history and talked to relatives and neighbors before assessing the risks he faced. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher noted that she even constructed a Savage family tree to understand his background, adding, "And the only person in that tree to commit multiple murders was Kaboni Savage?"

"You're right," she said.

The defense ended by calling 17-year-old Kai Savage, one of the defendant's four children.

The younger Savage read a letter his father wrote him, urging him to stay in school, listen to his teachers, and watch over his sisters. "I love you and miss you beyond words," it said.

That letter was sent after Savage was charged in 2009 with the 2004 North Philadelphia firebombing that killed two adults and four children. Under cross-examination, Savage's son conceded it's been "two or three years" since his last letter from his father.

Contact John P. Martin
at 215-925-2649, at jmartin@phillynews.com or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.