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Teens' fate up to jury

LAWRENCEVILLE - The three-week murder trial for two Buford teens accused of strangling their adoptive mother ended Thursday with nearly seven hours of closing arguments.

The jury, which began deliberations about 4:30 p.m., is tasked with deciding whether the girls murdered Muriel O'Connell in cold blood, or if they were defending themselves when the 57-year-old Realtor lashed out with a knife on Aug. 6, 2006, as both defendants claim.

"I told you this was a tragedy," said defense attorney Stacy Levy, strolling along the jury box. "There is no happy ending. This family is destroyed forever."

The girls, both 17, face life in prison. They're charged with murder, aggravated assault and felony murder, which implies they killed O'Connell while committing the second charge, a felony.

No one disputes that the girls killed O'Connell. The jury has the option to acquit them of murder or find them guilty of a lesser charge, voluntary manslaughter, should they believe the girls acted in sudden, violent passion provoked by O'Connell's alleged actions.

Defense attorneys maintain the girls suffered from battered person's syndrome, brought on by continued mental and physical abuse.

O'Connell had adopted the teens, Brenda and Catherine O'Connell, separately from a Guatemalan orphanage.

"The night that Muriel was killed was a culmination of months of discord in the home ... of her not trying to make two children her own," said Levy, who represents Brenda O'Connell.

Dan Mayfield, Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney, revisited evidence during his closing arguments proving the girls - both 15 at the time, each nearly a foot shorter and 90 pounds lighter than their mother - attacked Muriel O'Connell as she lay in bed, he said.

Namely, Mayfield pointed to evidence showing:

n The victim's body found on the floor, clothed only in a nightshirt and underwear, signifying she died in bed and was moved;

n Blood stains found only on pillows and sheets, indicating Muriel O'Connell's blood pressure had ceased once she came to the floor;

n Bruising on the victim's neck and wrists as proof she was restrained;

n Blood matching the victim's DNA on both girls' clothing;

n A bite mark on Catherine O'Connell's arm the girls claimed had been inflicted by their mother; dental records proved it was her sister's doing, Mayfield said.

Attorney Hillary Krepistman, representing Catherine O'Connell, urged jurors to examine every shred of evidence and each phrase of testimony presented during the lengthy trial.

"It's up to you to decide what was really going on in that house," Krepistman said. "I submit to you there was no murder."

Deliberations are expected to resume this morning, a court official said.