The decision came two days after four American oil company auditors were shot to death in Karachi, Pakistan, in an ambush that police said was apparently retaliation for the conviction on Monday of Mir Aimal Kasi. A group that claimed responsibility for the killings promised more attacks if Kasi was sentenced to death.
The judge decided to sequester the jurors after the killings to shield them from further reports about the slayings. They were kept under armed guard.
The jury had the choice of the death penalty or life in prison. Its decision in favour of the death penalty is only a recommendation, but Virginia judges generally abide by such decisions. It took the panel less than seven hours.
Kasi, 33, was found guilty of killing Frank Darling, 28, and another CIA employee, Lansing Bennett, 66, on 25 January 1993. He was charged with capital murder only in connection with Darling's death, in part because of evidence that Kasi first wounded Darling, then came back to the car and shot the helpless man in the head as Darling's wife sat beside him. The close-range shot with a high-powered AK-47 assault rifle blew off part of Darling's head.
In their closing arguments, the defence portrayed Kasi as a brain-damaged loner whose rampage was senseless, while the prosecution said he was a merciless, politically driven killer. Judith Barger, the defence lawyer, argued that Kasi should get life in prison because he had never functioned normally, having suffered brain damage at or near birth.
"I'm not asking for leniency. I'm asking for life in prison. I'm asking you to impose one of the harshest sentences the law allows," Ms Barger said.
Prosecutor Robert F Horan said the brain damage argument was a myth. He argued that Kasi killed in anger over US treatment of Muslims and showed no remorse for the killings.
According to testimony, Kasi made several confessions, each time saying the killings were vengeance for American meddling in Muslim countries. Kasi did not testify during his trial.
If Judge J Howe Brown chooses a life sentence, Kasi would not be eligible for parole for 30 years.
- AP, Fairfax,VirginiaReuse content