Virginia jury sentences sniper to death
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad got the ultimate punishment Tuesday, as recommended by a Virginia Beach jury: death.
Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. said he could not find another crime in Virginia history that compared with Muhammad’s murder rampage.
Killing innocent people, going about their normal lives, made the shootings “so vile that they were almost beyond comprehension,” Millette said. “I will confirm the jury’s verdict and sentence you to death.
A Virginia Beach jury convicted Muhammad in November of masterminding the Beltway shooting spree that killed 10 people and wounded three others in October 2002.
Muhammad wore a scruffy beard and long hair, and spoke briefly to the judge before sentencing. He said he had nothing to do with the murders, “just like I said at the beginning of this trial.”
Then Muhammad, a 43-year-old Army veteran, said, “I am not angry, I am not frustrated, I am not irritated. I have had 40 years of a wonderful life and there has been a lot of innuendo about my family and about my children.”
He urged the judge to “do what you have to and I will do what I have to do.” More than 50 relatives of victims, and at least one victim who survived the shooting spree, packed the courtroom. Only two – Larry G. Meyers and Katrina Hannum – spoke to the judge.
Meyers, brother of victim Dean H. Meyers, an engineer killed at a Manassas, Va., gas station, said the tragedy permanently damaged his Pennsylvania family, contributing to his mother’s death six months later and traumatizing his father.
Meyers said his father “could not bring himself to come to the trial.” Their memories of Dean are all the family has left, he said.
“I prefer to remember the good times,” Meyers said. “My only regret is that we will be deprived of any more.” Hannum, daughter of Linda Franklin, killed at a Home Depot store in Fairfax County, said “it is so wrong and so unfair” that her mother was taken. “I don’t have a mom,” she said. “My son does not have a grandmother. That is a lonely place to be.”
Muhammad was tried in Virginia Beach and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, was tried in Chesapeake, Va. The trials were moved from Northern Virginia so jurors who were not terrorized by the snipers could hear the cases.
Millette conducted post-trial hearings for Muhammad in Manassas because the jury was no longer needed. Diane Kitchin was the only Virginia Beach juror to attend the sentencing. She said she never thought she could sit in judgment of a person accused of a capital crime, but after hearing the evidence of Muhammad’s crimes, “I am sorry that he had only one life to give.”
Muhammad and Malvo were found sleeping in a car at a Maryland truck stop on Oct. 24, 2002. Their arrests ended to an eight-month murder spree that may have begun in Washington state and led through the Southwest, Deep South and Washington area.
Prosecutors believe Muhammad masterminded the shootings to get back at his wife, Mildred, for gaining custody of their three children. They believe Muhammad trained Malvo to shoot a rifle like the one Muhammad was trained to use in the Army.
On Wednesday, Malvo will be sentenced in Chesapeake to life in prison. A Chesapeake jury spared Malvo’s life in December by recommending the life sentence.
But the drama is not over, said Muhammad jury foreman Jerry Haggerty, who did not attend the sentencing. He spoke in a telephone interview Monday.
“This is just one more step in a long, drawn-out process,” Haggerty said. Muhammad’s execution, he added, probably won’t happen for at least seven years, given the appeals process.
More trials are anticipated for each defendant. On Tuesday, Muhammad’s defense attorneys, Jonathan Shapiro and Peter D. Greenspun, urged Millette to spare their client’s life.
Shapiro said Muhammad overcame childhood abuse and poverty to lead a life “with barely a blemish on his record” before the killings.