- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2004

MANASSAS — A judge yesterday rejected sniper John Allen Muhammad’s request for a new trial, ruling that he was convicted and sentenced to death on the basis of overwhelming evidence.

Muhammad’s attorneys argued during the four-hour hearing that prosecutors prejudiced jurors during the seven-week trial in Virginia Beach with graphic photos, tapes of dramatic 911 calls, and appeals to jurors’ common sense, instead of relying on facts. They also argued that the state did not prove that Muhammad actually shot anyone.

Prosecutor Richard A. Conway, Prince William County assistant commonwealth’s attorney, called the defense attempts “the final gasps of a cowardly killer who is trying desperately to avoid the same fate he so liberally dished out to others.”

Prince William Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. denied all defense requests for a new trial.

He also rescheduled Muhammad’s formal sentencing from March 10 to March 9 at 10 a.m. Prosecutors requested the change so families of the sniper victims could attend the sentencing hearings of both Muhammad, 43, and his convicted accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo.

Malvo, 19, will be sentenced March 10 in Chesapeake, Va.

Muhammad was convicted on two counts of capital murder and sentenced to death by a Virginia Beach jury in November for the Oct. 9, 2002, fatal shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg at a Manassas gas station.

Malvo was convicted on two counts of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by a Chesapeake jury in December for the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at the Falls Church Home Depot.

The snipers shot 13 persons in the Washington area, killing 10, in October 2002.

At yesterday’s hearing, Muhammad’s attorneys honed in on whether Muhammad had ever been proven to be the “triggerman,” an issue they raised during the trial with no success. Prosecutors had no eyewitnesses to implicate Muhammad and relied on circumstantial evidence.

“If they don’t prove that Muhammad did the killing of Dean Meyers, then he is not eligible for this capital murder conviction and death sentence,” defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun said.

Mr. Greenspun said prosecutors presented evidence in 15 other shootings during the trial to pile on the evidence “as opposed to looking for facts.”

“The weight of the evidence was tragedy after tragedy after tragedy, and emotion, emotion, emotion,” he said. “They were pounded from the beginning and it’s obvious … that they were not able to get around that.”

Mr. Greenspun said the prosecutors’ frequent appeals to jurors’ common sense was intended to pressure them to look past the legal intricacies of the case, such as whether Muhammad was proven to have been, legally, an “immediate perpetrator” of the shootings.

Mr. Conway responded, “It’s not the law, and I hope that it never will be, that there has to be direct evidence for a capital murder conviction. … That would certainly give people like Mr. Muhammad carte blanche to stealthily commit whatever crimes they wanted to commit.

“Mr. Greenspun didn’t like that, but common sense is what this system we have is built on,” he said. “That’s the evidence of the case — he and his accomplice were out shooting people. … There’s no way to present that without it being prejudiced, and without showing some gruesome photographs.

“This defendant has no right to ask you to clean up his mess before the jury sees it,” he said.

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