- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

The beat-up Chevrolet Caprice, a hole drilled in the trunk for a gun barrel, is back in Maryland. So is the Bushmaster rifle, fixed with a sniper scope, that authorities think fired the fatal .223-caliber bullets.

Many witnesses who testified against convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad in his trial in Virginia are ready to tell their stories again, including some who bear scars from the Bushmaster’s bullets.

And Muhammad has returned to Montgomery County, where the October 2002 D.C.-area sniper spree began, to face another jury.

Jury selection is set to begin Monday in his second trial, a case that likely will echo the 2003 Virginia case that ended in a death sentence for one of the 10 killings. Yet while much of the evidence and testimony during the expected five-week trial will be similar, the new trial could take some unexpected turns.

Muhammad, 45, plans to be his own lawyer despite evidence he may be mentally ill. He wants Lee Boyd Malvo, 21, also convicted in Virginia and serving a life sentence, to testify. And jurors will hear evidence about two Maryland killings that weren’t part of the first trial.

“This trial addresses completely different victims,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, whose office will prosecute Muhammad. “The first trial was about one murder in Virginia. This trial will be about six murders here in Montgomery County.”

Mr. Gansler was the first to file homicide charges in 2002, but lost the right to try Muhammad and of Malvo first to Virginia, which is more inclined to impose the death penalty. He argues his county was home to the most killings and bills the retrials of the two men later this year as insurance if their Virginia convictions are overturned.

But there are questions whether the new trial is necessary or worth the cost.

The severest punishment Muhammad faces in Maryland is life in prison. The most Muhammad could likely hope for in Virginia is to have his death sentence replaced by a life term, said his Virginia attorney, Peter D. Greenspun.

“There is no reason for this prosecution to occur,” Mr. Greenspun said. “It’s not as if there is a reversal, then John Muhammad walks out onto the street.”

Virginia spent $3 million to prosecute the snipers. While Maryland’s costs have not approached that level, expenses are mounting.

Montgomery County has spent $210,000 on courtroom security and transportation, a figure Sheriff Ray Kight expects to double by the end of the trials. Jailing the pair from their arrival last summer to January cost roughly $240,000.

However, most of the preparation work on evidence and witnesses was done for the Virginia trial. Mr. Gansler’s prosecutors are salaried. And Muhammad’s three standby attorneys are working for free.

Some relatives of the Maryland victims think the two should be held accountable, regardless of the cost.

Victoria Snider, sister of James “Sonny” Buchanan, plans to attend the trial often even though it means revisiting grim details of her brother’s death.

“I won’t lie, it is emotional,” she said. “But it is also important that justice be served on both of them.”

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