Sniper Suspects to Be Tried in Va.

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo will stand trial first in Virginia, ensuring both could get the death penalty if convicted in a string of shootings that terrorized the Washington area last month.

Two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Muhammad, 41, will stand trial in Prince William County for the Oct. 9 murder of Dean Harold Meyers, who was shot at a Manassas, Va., gas station while filling up his car after work.

Malvo, 17, will stand trial in Fairfax County for the Oct. 14 slaying of Linda Franklin, 47, an FBI analyst who was shot while putting packages in her car in a Home Depot parking lot in Falls Church, Va., the sources said.

The pair are suspected in 13 shootings, 10 of them fatal, in the shooting spree that began in Maryland and spread to Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Both suspects face charges of capital murder in the two Virginia cases and, unlike in Maryland or in the federal system, Malvo could be executed if found guilty even though he is a juvenile.

Attorney General John Ashcroft scheduled a 3:30 p.m. news conference to discuss the case.

Since the arrests two weeks ago, prosecutors have sparred over where the suspects should be tried first. Ashcroft said repeatedly that he felt it was important that both face the possibility of the death penalty.

With 86 executions since 1976, Virginia ranks second only to Texas, while Maryland has suspended capital punishment and Washington, D.C., does not allow executions.

In addition to capital murder, Muhammad and Malvo are charged under two new Virginia death penalty laws: an anti-terrorism law enacted after Sept. 11, 2001, and another allowing capital punishment for killing more than one person within three years. Under the terrorism law, prosecutors would not have to prove which defendant pulled the trigger in order for both to get the death penalty if convicted.

Muhammad and Malvo also have been charged with murder in the Sept. 21 killing of liquor store clerk Claudine Parker, 52, in Montgomery, Ala., and the Sept. 23 slaying of Hong Im Ballenger, 45, outside her beauty supply store in Baton Rouge, La.

And they are suspects in murders in Tacoma, Wash., and Tucson, Ariz., as well as a pair of robberies in the Maryland suburbs around Washington in which two men were shot and wounded.

All together, investigators believe the pair are responsible for 17 shootings that killed 12 and wounded five, and authorities have not ruled out more crimes.

Montgomery County, Md., prosecutor Doug Gansler had filed the first murder charges in the case, angering federal officials and souring the cooperative relationship that marked the investigation of the shootings.

Gansler argued that Maryland deserved the trials because six people were killed there — the most victims in a single state — but federal officials said Maryland's death penalty laws were too weak and its record of carrying out capital punishment was ineffective.

Federal charges against Muhammad allow the death penalty but only if prosecutors can tie the shootings into an extortion plot under the Hobbs Act. Police say they recovered a letter outside the scene of a shooting in Ashland, Va., demanding $10 million for the murders to stop.

Eventually, each of the local jurisdictions will have an opportunity to try the two on their charges.

Muhammad and Malvo have been in federal custody since their arrest Oct. 24 at a rest stop along Interstate 70 in Maryland. In their car, police say they found a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle that has been linked to most of the Washington-area slayings and to the murders in Louisiana and Alabama.


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