With his relatives wailing and fainting in the courtroom, Donte Thomas, who was convicted of killing a prosecution witness in a murder case, was sentenced to death yesterday for the crime.
A jury of six men and six women deliberated for just under a hour before returning the verdict before Common Pleas Court Judge John J. Poserina.
Earlier in the day, the jury listened to tearful pleas from four women in Thomas' life - his mother, aunt, sister and girlfriend - to spare his life.
"We grew up together. He wasn't an angel, but any time you needed him, he was there," his sister Katrina Thomas told the jury.
She said Thomas was the only uncle of her four children.
"I just want you to spare him so we can see him again," she said. ". . . Spare him!"
The jurors also heard the animated closing arguments of defense attorney Nino V. Tinari, describing "mitigating" circumstances, and Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry, depicting "aggravating" circumstances, in the killing of Tyreese Allen in 2006.
Thomas, 30, had been convicted the day before of first-degree murder in the slaying, but the jury had to decide yesterday whether the circumstances, such as the victim's being a prosecution witness, warranted the death penalty.
Tamika McMurren, who described herself as Thomas' girlfriend, pleaded with the jury not to sentence Thomas to death. "Please spare his life!" said a sobbing McMurren. "He can pay the rest of his life in jail. His [four small] children still ask for him."
As she sat in the courtroom listening to the prosecution's call for death, Thomas' mother, Maria Thomas Lee, 47, sobbed: "Jesus! Jesus! . . . Lies. He didn't do it."
When the verdict was announced, McMurren screamed. Lee fainted in the courtroom, and paramedics were called to resuscitate her.
Thomas was convicted Tuesday of killing 23-year-old Allen on Feb. 3, 2006. Allen was due to testify in the case of Kareem Glass, accused of killing Allen's cousin, Tyrik Gaymon.
Thomas opened fire on Allen and chased him down the street, shooting him three times as he lay helpless on the ground on 15th Street near Seybert Street in North Philadelphia. Allen's family said that Allen knew his willingness to testify put his life in jeopardy.
According to Barry, Thomas met with Glass in prison four days before killing Allen, whom he had not known. After his arrest for murder, Thomas attempted to recruit others to kill the witnesses in his own case, Barry said.
To emphasize the protection that witnesses should be afforded, Barry sat in the witness box and addressed the jury.
"This chair, this microphone and that oath are protected by the law," he said, "and Donte Thomas can't change that. Justice in this case is death."
Tinari, walking up and down in front of the jury, gesturing with his hands, decried the "eye for an eye" logic behind the death penalty. "It [the death penalty] has no valid reason to exist." Tinari warned the jury: "You're going to have to go home and sleep with this. You, and you alone, will be carrying this matter for a long time."
Barry countered: "The killing of a witness strikes at the heart of what America is - a country of laws. . . . It's in your hands."