Michael Paul Astorga is seen during an interview at a Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, jail in 2006.
SANTA FE, N.M. — Rita and James F. McGrane, who for years sought the death penalty for the man who killed their son, said Friday they were satisfied with the jury's decision to spare the life of Michael Paul Astorga.
Jurors failed to reach the unanimous verdict needed to sentence Astorga to die for the 2006 killing of Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deputy James McGrane.
That means Astorga will serve a sentence of life plus 13½ years, which was imposed by a district judge earlier this week. The sentence ensures that Astorga, 36, will serve at least 30 years before he is eligible for parole.
"We feel justice was served, despite what we wanted," said Rita McGrane, who later broke into tears as she discussed the case outside the Santa Fe District Courthouse.
"That's our justice system, and you have to trust the people on the jury to do the right thing," she said. "We have accomplished what we set out to do, and get (Astorga) off the streets. He's going to be an old man, if he ever gets out."
Astorga showed little emotion as District Judge Pro Tem Neil Candelaria read the verdict. His attorney, Gary Mitchell, said Astorga was relieved. He had been urged by his attorneys not to show emotion in the courtroom "because it gets misinterpreted," Mitchell said. District Attorney Kari
Brandenburg predicted that Astorga, who is scheduled to be sentenced next month for another slaying, will spend the remainder of his life in prison.
A Las Cruces jury convicted Astorga earlier this year of second-degree murder in the killing of Candido Martinez in Albuquerque. He could be sentenced to a maximum of 28 years, in addition to his sentence in the McGrane killing, Brandenburg said.
"It's very, very unlikely, under any set of circumstances, that (Astorga) will ever walk the streets again," she said. A Bernalillo County jury in 2010 convicted Astorga of murdering McGrane during a traffic stop in Tijeras Canyon in 2006. The state Supreme Court ordered that a separate jury hear the penalty phase to decide between death or life in prison for Astorga. New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009, but prosecutors sought it in Astorga's case because the crime was committed before the repeal.
The 11-woman, one-man jury deliberated more than 15 hours, starting late Wednesday, before delivering the verdict at about 2 p.m. Friday. Astorga's first-degree murder conviction faces automatic appeal to the state Supreme Court. Mitchell said he plans to ask the court to review all evidence in the case and to overturn the conviction. Jurors earlier this week found that Astorga acted with intent to kill a peace officer performing his duties, a finding of aggravating circumstances that cleared the way for a possible death sentence.
Astorga testified in his own defense during the three-week penalty phase, repeating his contention that he did not kill McGrane and was nowhere near Tijeras Canyon the night the deputy was fatally shot.
Earlier Friday, jurors sent a message to Candelaria saying several of them were concerned for their safety. They asked for assurances that their individual votes as jurors would remain anonymous, and they sought protection as they walked to their vehicles after the verdict.
Candelaria assured jurors that their safety was a primary concern for the court. He offered to speak privately with them about their concerns after the trial.
Mitchell then asked Candelaria to order a retrial in the penalty phase, arguing that the jury was "deliberating under fear." Candelaria rejected Mitchell's request. Conspicuous by their absence were any members of Astorga's family on Friday and throughout the jury deliberations.
Mitchell explained that Astorga's wife, Marcella Poolaw Astorga, did not attend court proceedings Friday because "she just couldn't control all the emotions."
Poolaw Astorga was among witnesses who testified this week in an effort to convince jurors that mitigating factors weighed in favor of a life sentence.
She described visiting Astorga in prison with their two children. She did not respond to a request for an interview Friday. After the verdict, James McGrane pointedly told reporters that none of Astorga's family had attended the final days of the trial. "He's going to be a lonely old man in prison, that's all I can say," he said of Astorga.
The McGranes estimate they have attended 75 hearings and court appearances since Astorga's arrest in Juárez, Mexico, in the days after their son's killing. James McGrane said he looks forward to doing some fishing in the days ahead. "This took so much of our lives," Rita McGrane said. "Six years of not really living for ourselves. Living to get justice for Jimmy. Now we can put this behind us."