Saudi sentences 5 to death for Jamal Khashoggi's killing

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By Saphora Smith and Charlene Gubash and Tony Brown  with NBC News World News
Image: Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain in 2014.   -   Copyright  Hasan Jamali

A criminal court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death Monday in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

Three others were sentenced to a collective total of 24 years in prison for their role in covering up the killing, Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said in a statementposted by the Foreign Ministry on Twitter.

The investigation concluded that the murder was not premeditated but was a mistake, a Saudi prosecution official said in a press conference carried by state television. The perpetrators agreed in the consulate to kill Khashoggi when they found it was difficult for him to be transferred to another location, the official said.

The prosecution official said that crown prince's former top adviser, Saud al-Qahtani, was questioned, tried but not convicted. Ahmed Asiri, the former deputy head of Saudi intelligence, was released due to a lack of evidence.

The court was withholding names of the accused until all appeals were exhausted.

The prosecution official said Monday that Khashoggi's family was allowed to attend. Members of the United Nations security council and human rights representatives also attended, he added. NBC News could not independently verify these claims.

Khashoggi, a permanent U.S. resident and a vocal critic ofSalman, was murdered and dismembered Oct. 2, 2018, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

His killing and the botched Saudi response triggered a wave of revulsion and anger around the world that appeared to catch the kingdom's officials by surprise.

The United Nations extrajudicial executions investigator, Agnes Callamard, concluded in June that there was "credible evidence" that high-level Saudi officials, including powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, could be liable for Khashoggi's killing.

Callamard called on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to "demand" a follow-up criminal investigation. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly said it was a domestic investigation.

The CIA has concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanordered Khashoggi's killing. The claim has been resolutely rejected by Riyadh.

President Donald Trump condemned the killing, and the U.S. sanctioned 17 Saudis suspected of being involved, though not the crown prince. But his administration has faced criticism for its defense of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. The absolute monarchy is a longtime U.S. ally, but under Trump, King Salman and his son, the crown prince, have become linchpins of American policy in the region.