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Sniper Sentenced to Die for 'Vile' Killings

Judge rejects leniency and upholds jury's verdict against John Allen Muhammad.

March 10, 2004|David Lamb | Times Staff Writer

MANASSAS, Va. — Rejecting pleas for leniency, a judge Tuesday sentenced John Allen Muhammad to death for leading a two-man sniper team that killed 10 people in random attacks in the Washington area.

The judge, LeRoy Millette Jr. of Prince William County Circuit Court, could have reduced to life in prison a jury's recommendation that Muhammad be executed. But he said he found the Gulf War veteran's crimes "vile almost beyond comprehension" and agreed with the panel's verdict, reached in November after a three-week trial.

Millette set an execution date of Oct. 14, which could be delayed by appeals. Since 1977, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, Virginia has executed 89 prisoners, second only to Texas.

"I have nothing to do with this case," Muhammad, 43, told Millette in a barely audible voice. "You do what you have to do, and let me do what I have to do to protect myself." He nodded to his attorneys in an apparent gesture of thanks.

Muhammad was led by two sheriff's deputies into the courtroom, where family members of some of the victims waited silently. Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, his hair bushy and his beard scraggly, Muhammad appeared to be a different person than the cleanshaven man with military bearing and close-cropped hair who sat stoically throughout his trial in Virginia Beach and seldom acknowledged his attorneys.

"There are no winners today," said Bob Meyers, whose brother, Dean Meyers, 53, a Vietnam veteran, was fatally shot while pumping gas at a Manassas station in October 2002. "This was not a victory. But it was something that had to happen, and it was done right."

The sniper attacks by Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, then 17, terrorized Washington and suburban Virginia and Maryland, forcing school sporting events to be canceled and playgrounds to be closed.

They were arrested Oct. 24, 2002, while sleeping in their car at a Maryland rest stop. In the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, authorities found a semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle with scope, maps of neighborhoods the killers had staked out and a global positioning system.

Malvo, a native of Jamaica, was tried separately in Chesapeake, Va., where a jury recommended on Dec. 23 that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Formal sentencing will be held today. The judge cannot overrule the jury and issue the death penalty.

Muhammad's attorneys made final pleas to spare his life in papers filed Friday and before Millette on Tuesday. They said the convicted sniper had been a loving father to three children, had served honorably for 10 years in the Army, and had been changed by the breakup of his marriage and the resulting loss of his children.

"He is not a born killer," defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro said. "He was subjected to many adversities." While conceding that a jury had found him guilty "of these atrocious crimes," Shapiro said Muhammad was "not the devil" and was capable of changing.

No clear motive for the sniper attacks was established during Muhammad's and Malvo's trials. But testimony revealed that the pair had asked authorities for $10 million to end the killings, and prosecutors had said the snipers wanted to use the money to set up an all-black colony in Canada founded on racial justice.

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