Deliberations in the penalty phase of the Christopher Cope trial stalled twice Thursday evening as jurors returned to the courtroom to announce that they could not reach a unanimous verdict about Cope's sentence.
They will resume at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Cope, 26, was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Shreveport Police Sgt. Timothy Prunty. Prunty, a 19-year-veteran of the force, was shot five times outside a southwest Shreveport Circle K in October 2010.
Cope now faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Caddo District Judge Mike Pitman initially recommended to jurors to return with a unanimous verdict, regardless of whether they decide on a penalty of death or life in prison.
But about 7:15 p.m., after nearly two hours of deliberating, jurors returned and told Pitman that they couldn't reach a decision. Pitman then demanded that they return to deliberations. He even ordered dinner for jurors, an indication that they would be expected to stay longer and deliberate.
About three more hours of deliberation, jurors returned with another deadlock announcement. This time, Pitman sent them to their hotel rooms to see if a good night's sleep might help with their deliberative skills, according to KSLA News 12's Brittany Pieper.
After the first deadlocked jury report, the defense team objected to Pitman's recommendation for a unanimous decision, understanding that a divided jury verdict automatically means life for their client. State law requires a death sentence to be recommended by a unanimous jury.
After the second deadlocked jury report, Cope's defense team objected by arguing that the judge might be sending the jury a message that a split decision is not an option because of his insistence upon a unanimous verdict. A split decision is an option in this case's penalty phase.
Cope's defense has pushed for a life sentence because, as they've told the jury, Cope's limited mental capacity should be considered as mitigating circumstances.
A clinical psychologist testified that Cope's IQ is 77, and that the 85 to 115 range is considered average.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Dwight Doskey told the jurors, "You all have a life in your hands."
But prosecutor Dale Cox pushed for the death penalty, telling the jury, "I'm asking for a verdict of death. It is a verdict supported by evidence. Any other verdict would lessen the seriousness of this crime." He went on to say that Prunty was shot and killed while performing the lawful duty of his job, "He was doing one of the most important things of his job. He was checking on Carey Sonnier."
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