oseph Paul Franklin, an avowed racist thwarted in an attempt to escape from a courthouse while an all-white jury pondered his fate, was sentenced to life in prison yesterday in shooting deaths of two black joggers.

Franklin, 31, found guilty of killing the two black men in a sniper ambush as they trotted out of a city park with two white women, could have been sentenced to death before a firing squad.

The verdict was returned less than three hours after the former Ku Klux Klansman attempted to escape from a holding cell. His brief disappearance was unknown to the jury and prompted dozens of police to surround the courthouse and conduct a floor-to-floor search of the five-story structure.

Franklin was discovered hiding in another holding area about 20 minutes after Salt Lake County sheriff's deputies sounded an alarm that he was missing during a break in the sentencing hearing.

The jury told Judge Jay Banks after 2 1/2 hours of discussion that it could not reach a unanimous consensus, as required by state law, on imposition of the death penalty.

Franklin has already been sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms following his conviction in March in federal court on charges he violated the civil rights of the joggers, Ted Fields, 20, and David Martin, 18, by killing them.