- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

The trial for convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad has been under way for a week in Montgomery County, but the politicians who held numerous press conferences during his three-week rampage in 2002 are silent.

Lawmakers and political observers say County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler — two of the most high-profile politicians during the shooting spree — are particularly reticent now because they are running for statewide office.

“The worst thing for any politician would be to be perceived as trying to take advantage of” the trial, said Ike Leggett, a former County Council member and Democrat running to replace Mr. Duncan, also a Democrat. “It would be seen as political opportunism.”

Muhammad, 45, who has been found guilty and sentenced to death in Virginia, is on trial for six slayings in Montgomery County, part of a shooting spree in which 10 persons were killed and three others were wounded.

“It was a horrible event that occurred here,” said council member Phil Andrews, Rockville Democrat. “I don’t think [Mr. Duncan] thinks that people want to focus on it. And it probably doesn’t tie in well to any point he may be making about crime in Baltimore.”

Mr. Duncan is running in the Democratic primary against Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and has accused Mr. O’Malley of misrepresenting the city’s decrease in homicides and other violent crimes.

The primary winner will face incumbent Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Mr. Duncan said his numerous appearances on television during the shootings was how “a lot of people in Maryland first got to know me” and that “a lot of people said they felt calmer and safer whenever they saw me on TV.”

However, Duncan spokesman David Weaver said the campaign will not shift its focus to tie in the trial.

“It’s not part of his stump speech [but] he may highlight it as an example of bringing people together,” Mr. Weaver said. “He will likely sit in at one point on the trials here, but no more than once.”

An O’Malley aide said Mr. Duncan has used the sniper trial to highlight Mr. O’Malley’s contentious relationship with Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

“If he’s standing with Jessamy, he’ll say, ‘During the sniper trial I had to work with the FBI and ATF, and Martin O’Malley just picks fights with Pat Jessamy,” the O’Malley aide said.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor “agreed to honor Montgomery County’s request to prosecute” Muhammad.

“The governor recognizes the personal interests Maryland families have in seeking closure,” Mr. Fawell said.

Mr. Gansler, a Democrat, is running to replace Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., if he retires. Mr. Curran is expected to announce a decision as soon as this week.

Mr. Gansler was the first to file charges against Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, now 21, after they were arrested.

He angered some law-enforcement officials who said a coalition of regional officials had not decided where to prosecute them.

Mr. Gansler has given the case to Assistant State’s Attorney Katherine Winfree and has kept a low profile during the trial.

“The only time I feel it’s my duty to inform the public is when an individual has been arrested for a crime or indicted,” he said. “In terms of this particular trial, there really hasn’t been a great deal of public interest, understandably.”

Mr. Gansler said he has “answered every question asked of me” since Virginia officials called to say they were sending Muhammad to Montgomery County for prosecution.

Delegate Jean B. Cryor, Montgomery County Republican, said the lack of interest is because “there’s just too much pain reliving all these moments.”

“People are talking about closure, but I’m not sure that it doesn’t just remind us of how painful that time was,” she said. “I just don’t see how this benefits anyone.”

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