Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia is seeking the death penalty for five of the 11 men on trial in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, state-run media said.
The public prosecutor announced the decision Thursday, the first day of court hearings in the case. The defendants requested copies of the indictment against them and asked for time to review it.
"The public prosecutor demanded imposing proper punishments against the defendants and is seeking capital punishment for five of the defendants for their direct involvement in the murder," the Saudi Press Agency said.
The prosecutor sent two letters to Turkey requesting additional evidence connected to the case. Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia has sent two previous letters to the prosecutor in Turkey.
"To date, the Saudi public prosecutor has not received any response, and the public prosecution is still waiting their response," SPA reports.
Khashoggi was a Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident who was critical of the Saudi royal family in his writings. He lived in exile in the United States but traveled to Istanbul to get a document for his upcoming wedding. Upon entering the consulate, a hit team suffocated him, tortured him and then dismembered his body with a bone saw as his fiancee waited outside.
Video footage released this week shows men carrying large bags into the Saudi consulate general's home in Istanbul, not far from the consulate where the murder took place.
Turkish investigators have found evidence of acid inside the consulate building, which may have been used to dissolve Khashoggi's remains.
The grisly details of the killing created an embarrassing diplomatic scandal for Saudi Arabia, particularly for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who took steps to distance himself from it. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that bin Salman ordered the killing, but President Donald Trump said Saudi Arabia is a strong ally and there's not enough evidence.
Saudi Arabia has said it will handle the prosecution of those involved in the case and will not extradite anyone. So far, 18 suspects have been arrested but the trial involves 11 defendants so far.
Saudi Arabia will keep the trial behind closed doors so any confession by the defendants that they were ordered to kill Khashoggi by someone in the royal family could be kept confidential.
In recent weeks, the Saudi Cabinet has been reshuffled and the country's intelligence agency reorganized as the world shines a spotlight on the government's operations.
Britain has asked the Saudis to reassure the world that such brutal tactics won't be used again to suppress dissent. Human Rights Group Reprieve estimates 700 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since 2014.