- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH - A jury today convicted John Allen Muhammad for coordinating and carrying out the sniper shootings last year and will begin hearing arguments this afternoon on whether Muhammad should be sentenced to death or life in prison.

Muhammad, dressed in the same beige sports jacket he has worn throughout the trial, stood expressionless with hands folded in front of him as a clerk announced the jury had found him guilty on two counts of capital murder, one for masterminding an act of terrorism and one for killing more than one person in three years.

Muhammad, who also was convicted for conspiracy to commit murder and use of a firearm in felony stood expressionless as the verdict was read but swallowed and looked slightly shaken as he sat down.

The jury of seven women and five men needed about seven hours of deliberation Friday and today to find Muhammad guilty in the shooting Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station on Oct. 9, 2002.

A female juror, a bartender and mother of a 12-year-old boy, held back tears as the clerk polled each juror to verify his or her decision.

“I consider justice to have been served,” said Mr. Meyers’ brother, Bob. “Certainly this is a huge step in the pursuit of closure.”

He also said Muhammad should receive the death penalty.

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

Kwang Szuszka, the sister of shooting victim Hong Im Ballenger, killed Sept. 23 in Baton Rouge, La., sobbed before being comforted by family members of other shooting victims. She was joined in the courtroom by relatives of some of the victims, along with numerous law enforcement officials and detectives who worked the case.

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

Muhammad and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, on trial in nearby Chesapeake, Va., have been linked to 22 shootings, in which 15 persons were killed and seven wounded. The shootings took place in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, the state of Washington and the District. Prosecutors said the men were trying to extort $10 million from the government. Thirteen of the shootings occurred in the Washington area during October 2002.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys decline to comment after the verdict.

The sentencing phase of the trial was expected to have two or three days of witness testimony followed by at least two days of defense testimony, then a prosecution rebuttal.

However, that could be reduced because Prince William Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. has limited the victim-impact testimony to only Mr. Meyer’s killing. Judge Millette told prosecutors he was concerned about putting too much strain on spouses, siblings and children of victims who might have to testify in Mr. Malvo’s trial and in subsequent trials if either Mr. Malvo or Muhammad is tried in another jurisdiction.

The judge also said he would allow prosecutors to present evidence during sentencing that Muhammad expressed anti-Semitic sentiments, but prevented prosecutors from telling the jury that the defendant expressed anti-American views.

Prosecutors presented evidence in Muhammad’s case for 16 of the shootings. Only eleven of the Washington area shootings were presented, because ballistics tests could not conclusively the first two shootings to the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle found with the defendant at his arrest.

Without an eyewitness to the shootings, the prosecutors relied on testimony that a close match to Muhammad’s DNA was found on the dial of one of the rifle sights and evidence from the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice in which the suspects were captured. The car had been modified to conceal a shooter firing from the trunk and its contents included a laptop stolen from one victim and a map with markings for six of the shootings.

James L. “Sonny” Buchanan, 39, was shot and killed while mowing grass outside a White Flint auto dealership on Oct. 3.

His sister, Victoria Snider, has attended every day of Muhammad’s trial to represent her brother.

“We have put our faith in the jury and we feel they made the right decision,” she said. “The evidence spoke for itself and the jury could only come to the conclusion they came to.”

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