Kaboni Savage left an indelible mark on two North Philadelphia families. Each appealed Wednesday to the jurors who will decide whether he lives or dies.

Savage's relatives portrayed the drug kingpin as a mentor, friend, and surrogate father who, despite his crimes, extolled the importance of family and the benefits of education and hard work.

His nephew Yusef Kaboni Savage told jurors that he was so enamored of his namesake that at age 10, he deemed his uncle "Person of the Year" in a school exercise as the person with the greatest impact on his life.

Pressed by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher, the younger Savage noted the date of his award: Dec. 8, 2004.

That was just two months after Savage's unforgettable impact on the other family, one that included Marcella Coleman, Tameka Nash, and the four children who died with them in a firebombing he ordered.

"I still feel like I lost a part of me," Jandell Jackson, a cousin of the victims, wrote in a letter read to jurors.

Another cousin, Teiera Jackson, said that because of Savage, she couldn't drive past the North Sixth Street house where the fatal arson occurred.

"He turned my last memory of a place that I and many of my family members shared so many fun times into the most terrible thing I ever saw," she said.

The letters, read aloud by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, were the exclamation point on the government's two-day presentation of why jurors should recommend death for the 38-year-old Savage.

The killings of the mother, 15-month-old son, and four other relatives of Eugene "Twin" Coleman, a government witness, were among 12 murders Savage was convicted of ordering or committing - a tally that makes him responsible for more murders than any other killer in the city's modern history.

As they opened their bid to spare his life, Savage's court-appointed lawyers, Christian Hoey and William Purpura, tried to show jurors how he got to that point, and the role his environment played.

They called a map and data analyst, Amy Nguyen, who said decades of census data showed gradual decay in Savage's Hunting Park neighborhood. As he grew up, poverty spiked, fewer adults had jobs or a high school education, and crime and drugs were rampant - all factors that make residents more at risk to turn to crime.

"On any corner, at any given time of day or night, you could get any kind of drug you want," Savage's older sister, Conchetta, told jurors.

Their father, a disciplinarian with two jobs, died suddenly from cancer in 1989 and her then-13-year-old brother lost focus, she said. "We all sort of shut down," she said.

Conchetta Savage said she knew that her brother, a dropout, was making money, "but I didn't know he was a drug dealer."

Savage's lawyers also called a Loyola University law professor and former federal public defender, Alexandra Natapoff, who said Savage's crimes and rise in the underworld coincided with a time when retaliation against informants, or "snitches," became acceptable, even encouraged, in low-income neighborhoods.

Savage's secretly recorded rants about killing rats and their families "weren't that much different from other sort of threatening statements I had heard," said Natapoff, who runs a website, snitching.org, and who has argued that misuse or overuse of informants has led to a "corrosion" of justice.

Questioned by Troyer, Natapoff conceded she was not privy to all the case evidence, and did not dispute that properly used, informants can be crucial in some cases.

The defense could conclude its case Thursday. Jurors are likely to begin deliberating next week.

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