- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2002

The sniper who has terrorized metropolitan Washington with random shootings would be likely to face the death penalty but not under the anti-terrorism law enacted after the September 11 attacks unless he is linked to a terrorist group, several legal experts say.
"The spirit of [the Patriot Act] was not meant to go in this direction, but at this point, this is a death-penalty-eligible case," said Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler.
"There is no provision in the Patriot Act that would apply in this case," said a U.S. Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "That is not to say that people are not being terrorized here. They are; it's just not under this provision."
The Patriot Act was enacted last year in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and on the World Trade Center in New York. Its intention is to provide legal tools to stop domestic terrorism by targeting members of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
As of yet, officials do not believe the sniper who has killed eight persons and wounded two since Oct. 2 to be a member of a terrorist group.
"At this point in the investigation, there is no link to al Qaeda," Mr. Gansler said.
"Nothing in the briefings I have seen would indicate that [al Qaeda] is involved," said Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat.
David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor, said that even though the anti-terrorism law would not apply, the sniper would not have an easy time once he is caught.
"I am not sure it matters what he is prosecuted under. Obviously what he is doing is completely illegal, and he is eligible for the death penalty under a variety of statutes," Mr. Cole said.
"He would certainly qualify for capital punishment" here, said Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert, whose office has sent more people to death row than any other jurisdiction in Virginia.
Virginia, where two sniping victims have been killed and another wounded, ranks second in the nation, behind Texas, in using the death penalty.
In May Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, imposed a moratorium on the death penalty until a study of whether it has been applied fairly is completed and analyzed. .
The University of Maryland is conducting the state-commissioned study, and a report on the study is supposed to be issued during the fall.
Maryland is the second state, behind Illinois, to impose a moratorium on executions. The state has executed two men since Mr. Glendending became governor in 1995. He granted clemency in one of three cases.
Both gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. support the death penalty, as does Mr. Glendening. Mr. Ehrlich has promised to lift the moratorium.
Five of the eight sniper slayings have occurred in Maryland.
One legal scholar said local jurisdictions could use the federal anti-terrorism law to prosecute the sniper.
"In the Patriot Act, the existing criminal code dealing with terrorism [was addressed], and the only change that was made was one that had the terrorism apply to events within the United States," said Peter Raven-Hansen, a professor of National Security law at George Washington University.
"I am not sure Congress had in mind a single solo sniper killer but in theory, killing people with a sniper rifle is meant to scare people and cause terror," Mr. Raven-Hansen said.
Mr. Ebert said that although the Patriot Act is not likely to apply, a Virginia law passed this year in response to the terrorist attacks could be used to prosecute the sniper. The law calls for the death penalty for any acts involving terror.
"Basically, that law said that terrorism [is] murder with the intent to intimidate the public, and that's what is going on here," Mr. Ebert said.


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