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Jury to consider death penalty in Phoenix Serial Shooter case

PHOENIX – Jurors in Phoenix’s Serial Shooter trial will return to court Monday to begin considering whether convicted murderer Dale Hausner deserves the death penalty for dozens of random nighttime shootings in 2005 and 2006.

The jurors, who found Hausner guilty of six murders on March 13, got a weeklong break after spending months in a courtroom for the complex trial.

They’ll spend the coming weeks considering evidence and listening to legal arguments and witnesses asked to return to the stand. They’ll also hear from survivors and family members of those killed about the emotional, financial and psychological effects that the shootings had on them.

The jury can sentence Hausner to life in prison or death.

Hausner, the main suspect in the Serial Shooter attacks, was convicted of 80 of 86 charges. Prosecutors said Hausner preyed on pedestrians, bicyclists, dogs and horses in attacks that ended in August 2006 with the arrests of Hausner and his roommate, Samuel Dieteman, at their Mesa apartment. Eight people were killed.

Dieteman, who testified against Hausner, is also awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to two of the Serial Shooter killings. He also could face the death penalty.

Since 2002, juries in Arizona have had the responsibility of determining whether a death sentence is warranted. After a first-degree murder conviction in a case where prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, the same jurors sit in a death penalty phase, where they hear evidence about aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances before rendering a judgment.

A defendant convicted of committing multiple murders is more likely to get the death penalty than if they’ve killed one person, said Kent Cattani, chief counsel over capital litigation and criminal appeals for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which is not involved in the Hausner case.

“Someone who commits more than one murder is more of a danger to society than someone who has committed only one murder,” Cattani said.

Mike Scerbo, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors could not comment because of the ongoing case.

But prosecutors plan to try to convince jurors that at least one aggravating factor applies to Hausner, according to a court document. Aggravating factors elevate a crime to a more serious degree, and a jury must find that at least one applies in order to sentence a defendant to death.

Of the 14 aggravating factors under Arizona law, the prosecution will try to prove four beyond a reasonable doubt – that more than one murder occurred, that Hausner has committed prior serious offenses, that he carried out the killings “in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner,” and “acted in a cold, calculated manner without pretense of moral or legal justification.”

If the jury decides at least one applies, the defense presents mitigating circumstances. Such circumstances can include a defendant’s inability to understand the wrongfulness of his actions or whether he was forced or threatened into committing a crime.

Timothy Agan, one of Hausner’s attorneys, declined to comment on whether he thinks the jury will agree there are aggravating factors.

“It’s certainly a possibility, although we’re not really in a position to predict,” he said. “Obviously we’re preparing for that possibility.”

He said the defense will take weeks to present mitigating factors if it comes to that point.

Tony Long, a survivor of the Serial Shootings who lives in the Phoenix suburb of Surprise, said he has forgiven Hausner and doesn’t have an opinion about whether he should get the death penalty.

“I just try to let it go,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell someone, ‘We’re going to put you to death.’ ”

He said he doesn’t know whether he’s going to speak to jurors about how he was affected by the shooting. Long was hit with about 100 shotgun pellets from his neck to his knees in June 2006 as he stood at a bus stop. He still has 30 of them in his body.

If Long could say one thing to jurors, it would be: “Just make sure you can live with whatever decision you come up with. Do what you think is right.”

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