The nervous spectators in Courtroom 304 of the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center could only presume that all was solemn deliberation behind the closed door leading from the jury box.

There, the Common Pleas Court jury of eight women and four men, winnowed down over three weeks from about 500 prospective jurors, considered the fate of Rasheed Scrugs, the admitted killer of Police Officer John Pawlowski.

In that room, solemnity had little to do with what was going on.

Juror Fred Kiehm, 49, described the atmosphere as "horrible."

"It was extremely tense . . . screaming, yelling, at one point I thought someone might break furniture," Kiehm said.

Another juror, who asked not to be named for fear of the public reaction, added: "There really wasn't any deliberation, because from the start people made their minds up and wouldn't discuss it."

From that first hour the 12 met, about 5 p.m. on Nov. 2, said the two male jurors, there was never a chance for a verdict. The deadlock - seven for life in prison, five for death by lethal injection - was already set.

The reason for the deadlock is still difficult to determine. One juror, for example, simply refused to take part in the deliberations, remaining silent or walking out to the lavatory.

Others, Kiehm said, were swayed by one of Scrugs' "mitigating factors" for life in prison - four sons - whom the jurors did not want to grow up with a father on death row.

To police, prosecutors, and many others around the region, the Scrugs case was what the death penalty was made for.

Scrugs, 35, a paroled robber who last year killed Pawlowski, 25, announced before the slaying that he would kill a police officer, then pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

So more than a few people were shocked when Scrugs was sentenced Monday to life because the 12 Philadelphians picked to sit in judgment could not reach a decision.

"It really, really was a tragedy. I'm just sorry that justice was not served," said Kiehm, who was Juror No. 12.

He said that afterward, when the jurors met with Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, "most of us said we were very sorry we couldn't finish the job we had to do. I feel frustrated. I feel very embarrassed."

Kiehm said he wavered several times before ultimately voting for death.

"But I think there were some people on the other side who really did not believe in the death penalty. Their minds were made up from the start."

The other juror, who said he also favored death for Scrugs, agreed. He said that when he asked one juror to explain why she favored a life sentence, she replied, "None of your business."

Other jurors did legal research at home, the juror said, and rebuffed him and others who warned they were violating their oaths.

"It was pretty terrible," he added.

Both jurors said they felt they owed an apology to the Pawlowski family.

The stalemate left Pawlowski's family outraged and prosecutors stunned.

"I just never figured that it would break down the way that it broke down," said Deputy District Attorney Edward McCann, coprosecutor with Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Juliano Coelho.

"This is something that Jackie and I agonized over [Tuesday]," McCann added. "We went over all our jury-selection notes to see if we missed something. We spent a tremendous amount of time hoping that we could spot something."

McCann said they interviewed several jurors afterward but did not hear about the improper legal research. He said they were told one juror simply refused to take part in deliberations.

The prosecutors and defense attorneys David Rudenstein and Lee Mandell spent three weeks in October interviewing almost 500 prospective jurors before picking the 12 who swore to listen to the evidence and impartially decide between execution by lethal injection and life in prison without chance of parole.

McCann said prospective jurors were asked several times how they felt about capital punishment.

"Basically, you have to take people on their word," McCann added.

Kimmy Pawlowski, the slain officer's wife, said in an interview this week she felt some jurors lied so they could get on the jury and prevent an execution.

Kiehm said he felt one juror might have done that. Mostly, he said, he thought the others just found they could not deal with condemning another person when confronted with the decision.

"It's an excellent point," McCann said. "It's a whole different ball game when you go into that room and it's your responsibility."

Rudenstein said he did not find the deadlock unusual: "Jurors get much more entrenched on death cases than they get entrenched on the question of guilt or innocence. . . . It's a lot to ask of people."

One development that might have thrown the jurors was that they never deliberated Scrugs' guilt or innocence.

Scrugs pleaded guilty to first-degree murder the first day of trial, Oct. 21, and the 12 were suddenly faced with the death penalty.

"We all looked at each other and we couldn't believe what we heard," Kiehm said. "We all thought we were going home that day."

Instead, prosecutors immediately began putting on evidence in a penalty hearing.

Still, the same thing happened last year when John Lewis pleaded guilty the first day of his trial in the Oct. 31, 2007, shooting of Officer Chuck Cassidy. The jury sentenced Lewis to death.

The outcome of the Pawlowski case left Kimmy Pawlowski and police - her father-in-law is a retired police lieutenant, her brother-in-law a police corporal - angrily calling for overhauling Pennsylvania's death penalty.

On Tuesday, Kimmy Pawlowski, 26, joined Maureen Faulkner, widow of slain Officer Daniel Faulkner, and the widows or relatives of three other officers killed in the line of duty at a news conference after a federal appeals hearing in the 28-year-old death sentence of Faulkner's convicted killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal.

"The death penalty needs to be used in Pennsylvania and it needs to be applied if a police officer is gunned down strictly because he is a police officer," Pawlowski said.

Faulkner told reporters, "I married Danny 31 years ago yesterday. And yet here I sit in court today. What is wrong with this system?"

McCann said he understood their frustration: "I was very disappointed with the result. But it's not for me to sit here, part of the system for 20 years, and condemn the system for something."

Some things that Pawlowski, Faulkner, and police advocate - letting the judge impose a death sentence if the jury can't decide, for example - have already been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

One change McCann said he thought would withstand court review is letting prosecutors retry a death-penalty hearing before a new jury if the first jury deadlocks. Currently there is no provision for retrial or for appeals if a jury deadlocks.

The idea already has an advocate in State Rep. Dennis M. O'Brien, a Northeast Philadelphia Republican who said at the widows' news conference that he would introduce a bill to amend the "remand statute" to enable prosecutors to conduct a new penalty hearing in such cases.

O'Brien said he would also try to correct another complaint of the families of slain officers: police killers sentenced to life in prison spend it in the general prison population, not restricted housing.

Before trial, accused police killers are locked in a cell 23 hours a day with one hour out for exercise or phone calls.

"There aren't that many cop killers serving life without parole in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," O'Brien said. "This individual should not be in the general population. He should be in restrictive housing just as if he were sentenced to the death penalty . . . the next administration should make that the first order of business."