- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 10, 2002

RICHMOND Four days after a sniper fatally shot a man as he fueled his car in Spotsylvania County, the county's prosecutor, William F. Neely, learned that his office would lose money because of a state budget crisis.
A month later, two suspects in the Oct. 11 sniper attack and nine other slayings in Virginia, Maryland and the District are behind bars, eventually to go to Spotsylvania, where Mr. Neely will seek the death penalty for them.
Now that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has decreed that John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, will stand trial first in Virginia, Gov. Mark R. Warner and other elected officials are seeking ways to supplement prosecutors who are preparing to bring the pair to trial in Virginia.
"It's the most expensive kind of prosecution," said Mr. Neely, commonwealth's attorney for the county that adjoins Fredericksburg, about 50 miles north of Richmond.
Mr. Warner cut state subsidies to all local prosecutors Oct. 15 in the first round of austerity measures necessary to close a budget gap approaching $2 billion.
Like other states, Virginia's tax revenues have ebbed because of a recession. In addition, corporate failures hurt the state's extensive telecommunications and Internet industries.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, last month spared cuts to Virginia State Police as they joined local and federal authorities in Maryland and the District in the exhausting and desperate search for the killers.
"Just as we made resources available to law enforcement, we will work with those jurisdictions to provide assistance," Warner press secretary Ellen Qualls said. "But these crimes were committed across the nation, and if Virginia is going to carry out the prosecutions, we want to work with our congressional delegation to find federal support for that."
Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, last month said he expects Congress to supplement states and localities not only for the costs of trying sniper cases but also for the millions of dollars spent searching for and investigating the suspects.
The Republican senator, re-elected Tuesday and no relation to the Democratic governor, joined Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, and two Democrats from Maryland, Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, in a letter asking Mr. Ashcroft for prompt financial aid to the states and the District.
"Given the unprecedented nature of these crimes and the tight budgets of state and local law enforcement agencies, we are hopeful that the Department of Justice can reprogram funds from other accounts to [assist] law enforcement agencies," the senators' letter said.
Mr. Muhammad will face trial first on capital murder charges in Prince William County, where Vietnam veteran Dean Harold Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg was gunned down Oct. 9 as he fueled his car in Manassas.
Mr. Malvo will be tried first in Fairfax County on capital charges stemming from the Oct. 14 killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, who was shot in the head as she and her husband loaded packages into their car at a Home Depot in Falls Church.
Beyond the Washington area, the suspects have been linked by ballistics and other evidence to sniper shootings in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. They are also suspects in two incidents in Washington state.
Mr. Ashcroft said he picked Virginia to begin the prosecutions because of its successful death penalty cases. Virginia's statute has passed Supreme Court muster, and the state has recorded 86 executions since 1982. Only Texas has executed more inmates since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Currently, cuts to the prosecutor's office in Prince William County will take $83,387 away from a state allocation of nearly $1.2 million. Fairfax County is scheduled to lose $95,951 from its $1.3 million state allotment.
In Hanover County, where the sniper severely wounded a Florida man Oct. 19 as he and his wife left a Ponderosa steakhouse, prosecutors lost $34,082 of the $481,607 due from the state. The state reimbursement Mr. Neely's office receives in Spotsylvania will be cut $29,716, about 7 percent, from a total of $419,912.
Prosecutors statewide are connected by an e-mail system, and Mr. Neely said one recent e-mail came from a prosecutor "who very tongue-in-cheek suggested that one way we could make our point to the state is not take these cases."
But prosecutors said they were focusing on preparing cases for trial, not on reduced resources.
"We will put forth the same effort on this case as we would if we were fully funded," said Rick Conway, a top assistant to Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert.
Mr. Neely will wait until the Fairfax County and Prince William County sniper trials are finished. That gives him more time to marshal resources to try the suspects in the slaying of Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, a Philadelphia businessman and father of six, and the Oct. 4 wounding of a 43-year-old woman in another sniper attack.
"It can take you about a year to get one of those cases to trial, and they can cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, even more when you pay to transport witnesses and hire experts," Mr. Neely said. "Now, with the budget cuts, it's costing me one-sixth of my staff."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide