- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Jurors indicated to a judge yesterday that they are split over whether to sentence sniper John Allen Muhammad to death or life in prison without parole.

After nearly four hours of deliberation, the seven women and five men sent a message to Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr., asking what would happen if they cannot reach a unanimous verdict and if they would have to come back Tuesday if they couldn’t decide on a verdict Monday.

Muhammad, who winked at his defense attorneys when he entered the courtroom, showed no reaction when the judge read the jurors’ questions out loud. As the judge spoke, Muhammad sat the defense table, with his clasped hands in front of his face.

“We have spent six weeks on this trial. I would simply urge you to continue deliberations,” Judge Millette told jurors after they were called back to the courtroom. “I’m not going to let you accept that you can’t make a decision. We really want to try to get a unanimous decision.”

The jury foreman, a 55-year-old former Navy captain, quickly responded to the judge’s answer. “It was just a question,” the foreman said.

Judge Millette also rejected a juror’s request to do legal research on the death penalty.

Juror No. 293, a policy analyst who is former Naval intelligence officer who specialized in antisubmarine warfare, had asked the judge if she could research the death penalty, even if her research was unrelated to Muhammad’s case.

“So we can’t do any research on the death penalty?” she asked the judge.

Judge Millette said she had to make her decision based solely on the evidence presented in the Muhammad case. “You’re not allowed to do anything else,” he told the juror.

If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision on the death penalty, Muhammad automatically would receive life in prison.

The jury will resume deliberations Monday at 9 a.m.

Also, Juror No. 289, a 31-year-old bartender, told the judge she may not be able to return Tuesday if the jury does not reach a verdict by Monday night. But, she said she will try to rework her schedule so she can come back Tuesday to continue deliberations.

If jurors cannot reach a verdict by Tuesday night, they most likely will not be able to resume deliberations until Dec. 1, the Monday following the Thanksgiving holiday.

Defense attorneys Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro would not comment about the jury’s questions and on what they said to Muhammad after court was dismissed at 1 p.m. for the weekend.

“They’re working,” Mr. Greenspun said of the jurors. “That’s what they’re supposed to do. It’s a hard decision.”

During jury selection last month, Juror No. 293, who is 45-year-old mother of three, said she had not made up her mind about the death penalty.

“I have conflicting opinions. I could see both sides,” she told attorneys who questioned her last month. “Part of me thinks it’s wrong, and part of me agrees with it.”

Muhammad was convicted Monday of 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 shootings in five other states before that. Mr. Malvo has been on trial in Chesapeake, Va., since Nov. 10 for the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot.

Jurors in the Muhammad trial were selected last month because they told attorneys during jury selection that they could consider the death penalty but would not automatically impose it as well as consider a sentence of life in prison without parole. Only a few jurors said they had serious reservations about the death penalty.

When asked about her views on the death penalty during jury selection, Juror No. 289 said it would be a difficult decision to make. “I would have to know in my heart that it’s the right decision,” the mother of a 12-year-old boy told the attorneys.

Juror No. 335, a 56-year-old design engineer, said he had to do “some soul-searching” when he received his notice for jury duty. “In this particular case, with the crimes committed, if they convinced me that this defendant committed these crimes, I do think I could impose the death penalty,” the father of two told attorneys during jury selection.

Joseph Bowman, a D.C. attorney who has defended capital cases in Northern Virginia, said death penalty cases are traumatizing for jurors.

“But a lot of those juries that appear so traumatized will recommend a death sentence,” Mr. Bowman said. “Usually the rest of the jurors will bring those people around.”

Jurors must weigh whether his crimes are “vile, horrible or inhuman” and whether he poses a future risk if he is given life in prison instead of a death sentence.

Over the last week, jurors had heard arguments and testimony from Mr. Meyers’ family members and Muhammad’s ex-wife, Mildred, who testified that Muhammad had threatened to kill her once she won custody of their children.

Muhammad’s attorneys showed jurors home videos on which Muhammad coaxes his infant daughter to take her first steps and prods his young son to flex his muscles like his dad.

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