Posted 10:02pm November 20
by Jane Black
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad now faces a possible death sentence for the 23 day shooting spree that left 10 people dead and three wounded in the Washington, D.C., area last fall. He was convicted of killing civil engineer Dean H. Myers on Oct. 9, 2002, at a gas station as part of a plot to terrorize the D.C. area and extort $10 million from the government.
Muhammad, 42, was unanimously found guilty Monday on two counts of capital murder and terrorism. The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for seven hours over two days before reaching their verdicts.
Muhammad became the first person to be convicted under Virginia’s anti-terrorism law, which was enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The jury must now decide whether to give Muhammad the death sentence. The defense team has told the jury that they plan to show Muhammad still has “worth and value.” Prosecutors will continue to push that Muhammad’s custody dispute with his ex-wife led him to commit multiple killings.
“This is not just someone who shot one or two people during a robbery, but it’s a methodical crime spree and the numbers of dead people are great,” said Attorney Mark J. Yeager, a criminal defense lawyer in Fairfax City. “That’s what makes this such a difficult case for the defense. If the person is guilty the likelihood for death is great.”
Many are concerned that jury members in Lee Boyd Malvo’s trial could easily learn the verdict in Muhammad’s case and play a significant role in how they view Malvo’s case. Malvo is the 18-year-old accomplice of Muhammad on trial for his alleged shooting role in the sniper attacks.
“Even if jury members inadvertently hear about Muhammad’s verdict I don’t think it will have much effect,” said Yeager. “First of all, no one is going to be surprised that Muhammad was convicted; the defense in Muhammad case rested on two very esoteric legal arguments that had very little to do with the facts. There was no question that he was probably involved in string of shootings.”
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush warned jurors not to watch the news or pay attention to the media. Like the panel in Muhammad’s case, the juror’s in Malvo’s trial are not sequestered. Malvo’s defense is telling jurors that their client was indoctrinated by Muhammad, a Svengali-like figure who took over Malvo’s life. They say Malvo should not be found guilty by reason of insanity and that he did not know right from wrong at the time of the shootings.