- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

Sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo will be tried first in Virginia in the shooting deaths of an FBI analyst in Fairfax County and a Vietnam veteran in Prince William County, both gunned down during a killing rampage that claimed 10 lives in Maryland, Virginia and the District.
Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday made the decision to send the suspects to Virginia for separate trials after discussions with officials from seven jurisdictions involved in the 23-day shooting spree investigation. He ruled that Fairfax and Prince William counties had "the best law, the best facts and the best range of available penalties."
Mr. Ashcroft, who during a press conference read the names of each of the 10 persons killed in what he called "brutal random acts of murder," made it clear after the Oct. 24 arrests of Mr. Muhammad, 41, and Mr. Malvo, 17, that the two men, if convicted, should face the death penalty. That option was not available in Maryland for the teenager or in the District for either one.
"Innocent victims from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Alabama and Louisiana have paid the ultimate price," Mr. Ashcroft said. "It is appropriate, it is imperative that the ultimate sanction be available for those who have committed these crimes."
Meanwhile, Atlanta police yesterday said ballistics evidence has linked the Sept. 21 fatal shooting of an Ethiopian immigrant outside a liquor store in that city to a handgun found in Montgomery, Ala., that police there said was in the possession of Mr. Muhammad.
Million Woldemarian, 41, was shot three times outside the store while checking on a suspicious car about 12:15 a.m. That shooting occurred seven hours before and 160 miles northeast of a fatal shooting outside a liquor store in Montgomery, Ala.
FBI Agent John Killorin, who heads the bureau's Atlanta field office, said a Montgomery, Ala., detective on Wednesday delivered the .22-caliber handgun to the Rockville lab of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, where it was test-fired and determined to match the Atlanta shooting.
"We're tightening the time frame of where they were likely to be, and investigators across the spectrum of where they traveled are now looking at open and unsolved cases in their areas," he said.
In Fairfax County, Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were charged with capital murder and using a firearm in a felony in the Oct. 14 death of Linda Franklin, 47, an FBI analyst killed as she loaded packages with her husband into their car in the Home Deport parking lot in Falls Church. She was the ninth person killed in the sniper attacks.
Mr. Muhammad was indicted by a Fairfax County grand jury in the case, while Mr. Malvo was charged in a petition from juvenile court, although Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. has said he will seek to try the teenager as an adult.
Fairfax County charged the two men under separate Virginia statutes, both of which carry the death penalty. They were accused under a new post-September 11 anti-terrorism law and a state statute allowing capital punishment for the killing of more than one person during a three-year period.
Under the state's multiple-murder statute, only the person convicted of firing the fatal shot can receive the death penalty, although under the anti-terrorism law, both are eligible for the death penalty.
Mr. Horan told reporters last week there was evidence pointing to the possibility that Mr. Malvo was the shooter at the Home Depot. He said his office would use the other sniper killings as evidence in his death-penalty case.
He also said the decision to prosecute Mr. Malvo in Fairfax County was "totally evidence-driven," adding that there were no double-jeopardy problems, as some had speculated. He said that under the Virginia statute, "We aren't trying those other crimes; we're using those other crimes to elevate our crime into the capital murder section."
In Prince William County, a grand jury indicted Mr. Muhammad on charges of capital murder and murder while committing an act of terrorism in the Oct. 9 death of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, in Manassas, who was shot as he pumped gas at the Battlefield Sunoco station. He was the seventh person killed in the sniper spree.
Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said after his office obtained murder indictments that he was prepared to be the first to bring the sniper suspects to trial and would seek the death penalty. He repeated that during yesterday's press conference, telling reporters that Virginia has been "very aggressive" in seeking the death penalty in several cases.
"The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst. And I think from the evidence that all of you are aware over the last month or so, these folks qualify," he said, adding that his office intended to proceed "as quickly as possible."
Mr. Ebert, who has served as the county's top prosecutor since 1968, has a dozen death-penalty convictions, the most of any prosecutor in the state.
Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore yesterday said the decision to hold the first trials in Virginia meant that both suspects could face the death penalty if convicted.
"The commonwealth of Virginia has tested and proven criminal statutes under which these murderers can be tried and sentenced to death," he said. "In Virginia, we don't apologize for our pursuit of justice. We stand with the victims."
Virginia has executed 86 persons since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982, making it second to Texas in the number of executions carried out.
The Justice Department signaled its intent to turn the two suspects over to Virginia early yesterday when it dropped pending federal charges against Mr. Muhammad. A 20-count federal complaint accused Mr. Muhammad of using a firearm during a crime of violence, causing the death of six persons in Maryland and one in the District.
An order dismissing the charges was approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Connelly. Mr. Ashcroft then ordered U.S. marshals to remove the two men from a maximum-security prison in Baltimore and deliver them to authorities at the Alexandria city jail.
Mr. Muhammad later was turned over to detectives from Prince William County and taken to the county jail in Manassas. He is expected to have a preliminary court appearance today. Mr. Malvo remained at the Alexandria jail.
Mary Shaffrey contributed to this report.

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