SANTA FE (KRQE) - The jury is finally deciding whether cop killer Michael Astorga will live or die.
After 14 days, jurors got the case at midafternoon Wednesday.
A unanimous decision would send Astorga to Death Row; a single dissenting vote would result in a life sentence.
During the day proceedings focused on character witnesses telling the jury why Astorga should or should not die for killing Bernalillo County sheriff's Deputy James McGrane Jr. in 2006.
But McGrane's family took the stand first to press for his execution.
His sister told the jury she remembers her father telling her that her little brother was dead.
"The pain was unbearable at times that I would find myself in an empty church just sitting there begging for God to heal us all," Ida Tingley said. "He only wanted us to be proud of him.
"Well, Jimmy, we couldn't be prouder of you then, and we are even prouder now."
She said she is only left with the memories of a great man to pass along to her daughter
Then it was the defense's turn to call witnesses on Astorga's behalf.
His stepmother blew him a kiss as she sat down and told the jury how hard his childhood had been.
A defense investigator showed pictures of a young Astorga and presented awards he received in elementary school.
He said Astorga was put in special education starting in kindergarten but did graduate from high school.
His wife Marcella broke down while telling the jury about taking Astorga's sons to see him in prison.
"My son will put his head on the glass, and Mike will hit it so the vibration between the glass and my sons head will vibrate," Marcella Astorga said. "I try to keep that and let them have their thing so my son can have that contact feeling since he's been trying to do it through all these years."
The jury will resume its deliberations at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
There also had been an ongoing disagreement about one person the defense wanted to call as a character witness: Archbishop Michael Sheehan.
The archbishop's attorney argued Wednesday that his client should not have to appear.
Astorga claimed he and the head of New Mexico's Catholic Church had talked on Easter a few years ago when the archbishop visited inmates at the state penitentiary.
The archbishop's attorney denied that:
"He has no specific recollection of ever having a personal conversation with Mr. Astorga or any of the other inmates," Juan Flores said.
The defense decided to withdraw its subpoena, and the archbishop did not appear as a witness.
Wednesday morning testimony
Witnesses are on the stand again in the Michael Astorga death penalty hearing offering starkly different opinions on whether he should live or die.
But these weren't just any witnesses: They were family members of slain Deputy James McGrane Jr. asking the jury to execute his killer and friends and family of Astorga who want his life spared.
A District Court jury in Albuquerque convicted Astorga of the murder in 2010, and a new jury now will determine whether he is sentenced to death or to life in prison.
The sentencing hearing was moved to Santa Fe due to the extensive media attention given the case in Bernalillo County.
Rita and James McGrane Sr. and their daughter spoke about the night in 2006 when Astorga killed the Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy during a nighttime traffic stop near Tijeras.
McGrane's father testified that when he saw the sheriff at his door, no one had to tell him what had happened.
He then had to tell his wife and daughter.
His son, he added, had been proud to be a New Mexico State Police officer before joining the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department.
Ida Tingley, McGrane's sister, said her brother's death changed the course of their lives forever leaving pain and grief that never go away.
Rita McGrane described James--Jimmy, she calls him--as a happy and loving son and that she visits his grave several times a week. She continues to have nightmares of her son dead on the highway, she added.
Defense lays out Astorga's youth
After that, the defense started calling its own witnesses whose testimony they hope will save Astorga from death by lethal injection.
A private investigator hired to look into his background told the court Astorga's younger years were turbulent, that he was born to a 16-year-old mother. He had almost no male role models growing up and was mostly raised by his grandmother, investigator Tom Garrity testified.
He also was placed in special education from kindergarten on and was married while completing high school.
Friends and family of Astorga also testified late Wednesday morning talking about how he helped a friend's family when it was in financial trouble. His step-mother Rosemary Astorga blew Astorga a kiss as she took the stand to tell the jury everyone is human and makes mistakes.
Astorga's current wife, Marcella, testified the elder son is becoming old enough to wonder what's up with his father and why they are separated by glass when they visit.
She also said their last name was causing their son
trouble in school, and that the principal had gone out of her way to attack her son. At that, point, however, District Judge Neil Candelaria stopped her from saying anything more on that topic.
When her testimony finished, Candelaria recessed court for lunch.
Additional testimony is scheduled for the afternoon session.
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