- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Jurors this morning will begin considering whether sniper John Allen Muhammad should be executed or sent to prison for the rest of his life.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys yesterday offered their closing arguments in the sentencing phase of Muhammad’s 5-week-old capital-murder trial.

“We are asking you to sentence the defendant to death,” said James A. Willett, Prince William assistant commonwealth’s attorney.

He showed jurors a picture of Linda Franklin, 47, who was shot in the head on Oct. 14, 2002, outside a Falls Church Home Depot. The right side of her face was gone.

“Let’s talk about violence. Let’s talk about depravity of mind. It’s all right there,” Mr. Willett said, ridiculing defense efforts to portray Muhammad as a loving father and loyal friend. “That person no longer exists. That person is dead.

“That person was murdered by the embodiment of malice that sits before you today,” the prosecutor said, standing next to Muhammad at the defense table.

Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro pleaded for mercy in his closing statement.

“This was a human being. This was a person like you and me. … This was a good solid man. His foundation crashed. Something went horribly wrong,” Mr. Shapiro said, referring to Muhammad’s loss of his three children in a custody battle.

“Can we still be furious and still understand how a human being goes horribly off track? Can we grieve for the dead and wounded and still agree that further killing is wrong?” the defense attorney said. “There’s been enough death.”

The defense team concluded its case after showing home videos of Muhammad from Christmas 1992 with his wife and children. In one scene, Muhammad, his shirt off, sat in front of a bathtub and urged his infant son, John Jr., to show his muscles to his mother. John Jr. obliged, and Muhammad laughed with delight.

In another scene, Muhammad placed his infant daughter Selena on his stomach and did sit-ups as she clung to him. Mr. Willett called the videos a ploy to garner sympathy.

But Mr. Shapiro said, “As completely out of line this was, it was also out of the blue. … He was a different person. … When that family was ripped from him, his life collapsed.”

Muhammad was convicted Monday on two counts of capital murder for the Oct. 9, 2002, fatal shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. Muhammad was found guilty of masterminding an act of terrorism — the 13 Washington-area sniper shootings that left 10 dead and three wounded last fall — and of killing more than one person in three years.

Muhammad, 42, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, have been linked to the Washington-area shootings and nine other shootings in five states before that. Mr. Malvo has been on trial in Chesapeake, Va., since Nov. 10 in Mrs. Franklin’s fatal shooting.

The seven women and five men on Muhammad’s jury were selected because they said they could consider the death penalty but would not automatically impose it and also would consider a sentence of life in prison without parole.

They will begin deliberations at 9 a.m. and will conclude by 1 p.m. if they have not reached a verdict.

During the sentencing phase, prosecutors presented 23 witnesses over two days to show that Muhammad’s crimes are “outrageously and wantonly vile and horribly inhuman” or that he poses a threat of future dangerousness to society. If the jury finds that either of those aggravating factors was proved beyond a reasonable doubt, they can sentence Muhammad to death. The jury’s decision must be unanimous.

The defense team presented testimony from Muhammad’s friends, brother and sister to convince jurors that their client’s life has “worth and value” and should be spared.

The Rev. Al Archer, a Baptist minister who runs the Lighthouse Mission for the homeless in Bellingham, Wash., said Muhammad “sought the very best” for his children during their two-week stay with their father at the mission. He brought them there with him in August 2001 after returning from Antigua, where he met Mr. Malvo.

Two of Muhammad’s friends from Tacoma, Wash., said he lost his grip on reality after losing custody of his children.

“He changed. … His whole demeanor changed. Sometimes he seemed like he wasn’t all there,” said Nathan Perry, 40, a father of three who played card games with Muhammad and friends. “He was out, out of reality.”

Robert Holmes, an old Army buddy of Muhammad’s, told jurors how Muhammad and his wife took wayward children into their home to help them.

“The person who’s accused of those crimes — it’s a different person. This is totally out of character. … He’s always going to be my friend,” said Mr. Holmes, whose tip to the FBI last year helped lead to Muhammad’s arrest.

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