A white supremacist whose murder trial ended with a hung jury avoided a second trial and a possible death sentence by pleading guilty today in the slaying of an African immigrant.
Nathan Thill, 21, entered the plea to a first-degree murder charge before Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless, who sentenced him to life without parole for the 1997 death of Oumar Dia.
Dia, 38, a hotel employee, was shot along with a bystander at a bus stop on Nov. 18, 1997. Police said Thill called Dia a racial epithet and asked if he was prepared to die. The bystander, Jeannie VanVelkinburgh, was paralyzed.
Prosecutors said Thill shot Dia because Dia was black. In jailhouse interviews with reporters, Thill admitted he shot Dia and described himself as a warrior in a race war.
Bayless declared a mistrial on the murder charge on Dec. 3 after a jury deadlocked, with 10 jurors urging a first-degree murder conviction and two agreeing only to second-degree.
Defense lawyers had argued that Thill's troubled past and unstable mental state made him unable to form the deliberation needed to commit first-degree murder.
Although they deadlocked on the murder charge, jurors had convicted Thill of ethnic intimidation and of attempted second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the wounding of VanVelkinburgh.
Thill's codefendant, Jeremiah Barnum, 25, was found guilty of first-degree murder last March. But a judge overturned the conviction because of the emotional testimony of VanVelkinburgh.