Sniper Suspect to Appear in Court

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad was scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday, where prosecutors are expected to make their case for holding him until trial. Under federal law, prosecutors have until Thursday to secure an indictment against him.

Federal prosecutors filed a 20-count criminal complaint against Muhammad, 41, last week on charges that include extortion, use of a firearm and interfering with interstate commerce. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Federal charges have also apparently been brought against John Lee Malvo, but authorities will not say so because he is a juvenile. On Monday, 17-year-old Malvo was ordered detained at a closed hearing, and the orders and records were sealed, court clerk Felicia Cannon said.

Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar rejected a request by several news organizations, including The Associated Press, to make Malvo's hearing public.

Meanwhile, investigators are looking into whether two September shootings were related to the October spree that left 10 dead in the Washington area.

The wounding of two people in separate holdups, one outside a liquor store and the other outside a restaurant in Clinton, the Washington suburb where Muhammad's ex-wife lives, could be connected with the string of sniper attacks, Prince George's County police said.

Police nationwide have been reviewing unsolved shootings to see if they can be connected to the sniper suspects.

In addition to the shootings in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the two face murder charges in Louisiana and Alabama, and are suspects in two shootings, one fatal, in Washington state.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has yet to determine which jurisdiction will try the pair first, a decision that could come later this week, two senior Justice Department officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The officials said a decision was not expected before Wednesday.

One source said Virginia's strong death penalty statute, which permits the execution of a 17-year-old, could put that state first in line. Maryland has only a slim chance because of weak death penalty laws and soured relations between the federal prosecutors and Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, the source said.

Gansler angered federal officials by filing murder charges the day after Muhammad and Malvo were arrested and by criticizing the federal government's case. Gansler said Monday that he has not heard from federal prosecutors in more than a week.

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