Several U.S. lawmakers have condemned the "sham" Saudi trial and court verdicts over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year in Istanbul. 

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and a U.S. resident, was murdered after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 on a visit to pick up paperwork for his forthcoming marriage.

On Monday five people were sentenced to death over the killing, but two senior aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were exonerated.

Shalaan al-Shalaan, Saudi deputy public prosecutor, said a total of 31 people were investigated in connection with the killing, and that 11 people were charged. Three got jail terms totaling 24 years, and the rest were acquitted.

Contrary to investigations by the UN and CIA, as well as hard evidence provided by Turkey to parties of interest, al-Shalaan claimed that their "investigation showed that the killing was not premeditated."   

Senators slam verdict

The Saudi court verdict drew strong criticism from Washington, where lawmakers and the U.S. President Donald Trump are on holiday for Christmas and the New Year.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a top Democratic contender for next fall’s presidential election, slammed the Saudi trial, saying on Twitter: "The CIA concluded that the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. This sham trial, carried out by a despotic and lawless regime, looks more like a cover-up."

Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the trial a "farce" rather than "justice."

"Giving the death penalty and prison sentences to a few of the lower-level individuals who were apparently involved in this heinous crime while failing to hold those responsible for ordering, supervising, masterminding and covering up the murder is an appalling attempt to sweep aside the truth," his statement added.

"This sentencing will not stop us from speaking out about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. We will continue to press his case and demand truth and justice," Reed added.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, said the sentence is a "continuation of the Kingdom’s effort to distance Saudi leadership" from Khashoggi’s murder.

"This was a premeditated murder, not a ‘snap decision’ or rogue operation," Schiff tweeted on Monday.

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Democrat, said on Twitter that "Senior Saudi officials continue to escape accountability for the state-sponsored murder of Jamal Khashoggi" and urged the Trump administration to demand justice.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called the trial a "sham" and added that the masterminds walked away "scot-free."

Independent Senator Angus King of Maine said Monday’s verdict "does not seem to meet" criteria of "justice and accountability."

The White House has not issued an official statement, but a senior official called the ruling an "important step."

"This is an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable, and we encourage Saudi Arabia to continue with a fair and transparent judicial process," the official said.

Trump has been criticized for both downplaying the seriousness of the murder and denying that Prince Salman was responsible.