- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” or a zealous prosecutor.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, with his youthful looks and affable ways, makes no secret of being a passionate prosecutor. Hey, who wouldn’t want an “eager beaver” in their jurisdiction with a zest for convicting the bad guys? But, is the gung-ho Gansler becoming overzealous, as he seeks to prosecute the convicted Washington-area snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo?

Mr. Gansler fervently states absolutely not; he’s only doing his sworn duty. After all, six of the 10 sniper victims were killed in Montgomery County, which was “the epicenter of the crimes and the investigation.” And, “These guys have got to be held accountable,” the fast-talking Mr. Gansler said yesterday. “Can you imagine what would be said if we didn’t [prosecute]?” Insisting that he didn’t lobby for the case, Mr. Gansler made the decision to prosecute the snipers after receiving word that Virginia Gov. Mark Warner would release them to Maryland, and only after he consulted with the victims’ families.

“Some were reticent until they realized [the snipers] would be tried in another state, so it might as well be here,” he said. “One mother asked how would you like it if the person you thought was responsible for your [loved one’s] murder was tried 200 miles away for another crime and convicted, and people told you, ‘That’s all right, don’t worry about it’?”

He added, “Outcome is not why we try cases.” Further, he downplayed as “ridiculous on its face” and as a “cheap shot” any suggestion that he is showboating for politics’ sake. “Politics has no place in prosecutions,” he said.

However, Mr. Gansler’s detractors say the boyish wunderkind, who seeks to become the next attorney general of Maryland, is going too far this time. And, he’s opened himself up to criticism because his hot pursuit of another lengthy, costly, emotional trial for the convicted snipers is indeed just a matter of “show.”

Jonathan Shapiro, Muhammad’s attorney, told The Washington Times that Mr. Gansler is the only one to benefit from another sniper trial.

“It’s a show trial,” the Fairfax lawyer said. He also cited the “sheer waste of money” for a trial for two men who will never be set free. Muhammad is on death row in Virginia, and Malvo is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Mr. Gansler countered, saying the costs “would be no more than any other high-profile case in the county,” and should not be considered as a factor where the loss of so many lives is concerned. Also, he does not anticipate the same press coverage for the Montgomery cases.

Not for the glory: The “crowning achievement” of his career was the night he took his children trick-or-treating for Halloween 2001 — a week after Malvo and Muhammad were arrested — because he “had some small part in knowing that they and other children could go out without fear of being shot by a sniper,” he said.

Some folks think the snipers cannot be tried enough. But how many times can Muhammed die? Malvo will never see the light of day again as a free man. However, Mr. Gansler, along with Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert and Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., worry that the sniper verdicts in Virginia could be reversed on appeal.

“They’ve only been convicted of one case,” warned Mr. Gansler. A trial in Montgomery on six murder charges, with different facts and different state laws, is “absolutely necessary” because there are “still layers and layers of appeals that remain” in Virginia and “no case is appellate-proof.”

You can’t blame the gung-ho Mr. Gansler for wanting a crack at this case. He was the first to file charges against the two men at a live press conference the day after they were caught. However, he was not invited when federal prosecutors announced the cases would be sent to Virginia first.

Indeed, Mr. Gansler is a ready spokesman when it comes to taking his cases and his causes before the public. Some even criticize him for being “a media hound.” From my vantage point, his ready accessibility to reporters, and therefore the public, is a plus. I remember when I was on deadline writing about the 1997 murder case against Samuel Sheinbein, he called me from his parents’ home on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Mr. Gansler was right to pursue the Montgomery County teenager who fled to Israel with the considerable aid of his father, Sol Sheinbein, after the murder and decapitation of Alfredo Tello.

So egregious was that case that Mr. Gansler also sought to revoke Sol Sheinbein’s American license to practice law, which he was using to make money in Israel. Mr. Gansler also spoke out against the unconscionably lenient rulings of Circuit Court Judge Durke Thompson, whose comments on sexual harassment often lay blame on the victims.

For those two cases alone, Mr. Gansler won kudos in my journal.

But the time for Mr. Gansler to try Muhammed and Malvo in the Montgomery County killings, for which we continue to grieve, should occur only if they win their Virginia appeals.

Despite meeting with them, some of the victims’ families were quoted earlier this week saying it would be painful to open up old wounds with another trial.

No one can forget what terror the snipers caused that fateful fall of 2002. No one wants them to be granted leniency for their heinous crimes. The survivors are trying to move forward, as hard as that must be. Will it really help to pick the scabs of healing wounds? I think not.

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