- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

Family members of sniper victims cried and hugged when a Virginia Beach jury declared John Allen Muhammad guilty of capital murder yesterday. Outside the courtroom, the relatives called on the jury to finish the job and hand Muhammad the ultimate punishment for his crimes.

“I believe that capital punishment is an appropriate response in certain crimes, and I must say that I can’t think of too many more heinous crimes than this one,” said Robert Meyers, brother of sniper victim Dean Harold Meyers.

Muhammad was found guilty of killing Mr. Meyers on Oct. 9, 2002, as he filled his tank at a Manassas gas station.

Mr. Meyers, 53, was an engineer who had never married and lived quietly in Gaithersburg. He contributed to charities regularly and also helped care for his aged cousin and her widowed roommate, running errands and taking them to doctor’s appointments. When the cousin’s friend died, she left the Vietnam veteran $500,000 in her will — but Mr. Meyers couldn’t bring himself to accept the money. Instead he tracked down the woman’s family members and distributed the money to them.

Vijay Walekar agreed that Muhammad should face the death penalty. Mr. Walekar’s brother, Premkumar Walekar, was fatally shot at a gas station in Rockville on Oct. 3, 2002, one of five persons targeted that day.

“That was a tremendous loss for me, my sister-in-law who lost her husband, and my nephews and nieces who lost their father,” Mr. Walekar said. “I think he should be punished for what he did. I feel that he should get the death penalty.”

Kwang Szuszka, the sister of shooting victim Hong Im Ballenger, killed Sept. 23 in Baton Rouge, La., sobbed and was comforted by family members of other shooting victims.

“I’m glad they found him guilty, and I’m still looking for the death penalty for justice,” Miss Szuszka said.

After delivering their verdict yesterday, the jury began hearing arguments on whether Muhammad should be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Charles Charlot, the cousin of sniper victim Pascal Charlot, said that he was pleased with the verdict and that his family would be satisfied no matter what the sentence.

“The jury made the right decision,” said Mr. Charlot, 68, from his home in Silver Spring. Mr. Charlot said he would “prefer life in prison” for Muhammad.

“That way, for the rest of his life, he will think every day about what he did and how we suffered,” he said.

Deborah Cox, whose brother, Sonny Buchanan, was killed while he mowed the lawn at a Bethesda car dealership, shouted “Yes” when she heard the verdict on her car radio.

“I was elated,” she said.

Sonia Wills, the mother of bus driver Conrad Johnson, the final sniper victim, saw the verdict as divine justice.

“The Bible tells us, ‘God’s will be done,’ and God’s will has been done,” she said. “Execution will not bring my son back, nor will it give me the quality of life I had before he left, but I leave everything in the hands of God.”

The families of the victims were not the only ones who expressed satisfaction with the verdict or the hope that the jury sentences Muhammad to death.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who attended two days of the trial, said he was “very pleased that the jury saw the evidence the way I saw it and most of the public saw it.”

“It’s a difficult thing to say, but I think Mr. Muhammad should get the death penalty,” Mr. Duncan said. “Clearly, these acts deserve the death penalty, but that’s up to the jury now.”

The verdict even drew reaction from the White House, where Press Secretary Scott McClellan commented on it during a news briefing.

“The jury has spoken,” he said. “Hopefully, the jury’s decision will help bring some comfort to the families of those whose lives were taken and those who were injured.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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