- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

After rendering four guilty verdicts on Nov. 17, a jury of five men and seven women yesterday recommended two death sentences for John Allen Muhammad, the mastermind of the 2002 sniper attacks. Muhammad and his suspected accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, went on a cross-country killing spree, shooting 16 innocent people as if they were no more than empty beer cans perched on a split-rail fence.

The majority of the cold-blooded killings were in the Washington region. Dean Harold Meyers, 53, was victim No. 9. Mr. Meyers was pumping gas at a station in Manassas on Oct. 9, 2002, when Muhammad shot him in the head. Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, was victim No. 5. She was vacuuming her van at a gas station in Kensington when she was murdered. The words of her emotionally stricken father captured much of the sentiment following the announcement of the death sentences. “I don’t believe there ever can be any total closure for something like this,” said Marion Lewis, “even if I would be allowed to pull the switch, or plunge the plungers or spring the trap myself.”

Muhammad, 42, is an Army veteran who plotted his streak of terror by using a map, on which he designated “good” spots for hiding and hunting down his targets. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. Fortunately, after watching and listening intently to the solid evidence and testimony (including Muhammad acting briefly as his own attorney), the jury found him guilty on all counts. The jury recommended the death sentences on the terror and murder charges.

Jurors who spoke to reporters said they weighed the evidence — including the demeanor of the defendant himself — before passing judgment on sentencing. “The man to me doesn’t care about anything but himself and his,” said juror Dennis Bowman, who said he voted for life imprisonment on Friday, but changed his mind Sunday night. “The total lack of remorse seemed to cap it all for us.”

Muhammad’s counselors don’t see things that way, of course. Jonathan Shapiro said that while the defense team had no problem with the jurors, “we have deep disagreement with any system that sanctions killing.”

The taking of a human life by the state, even the life of a killer as cold-blooded as John Allen Muhammad, offends many Americans. “The system,” nevertheless, gave him a capable defense, and it let him have his say. Thanks to Muhammad (and the team of Washington-area investigators), the prosecution mounted a very strong case. And the jurors, as Mr. Shapiro pointed out, did their job, too. The system will grant Muhammad two options — death by injection or by electrocution.

The only other uncertainty should be dissolved Feb. 12, when Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. is scheduled to decide whether he will accept or modify the jury’s death sentence verdict. Virginia judges rarely reduce sentences, and if ever a killer deserves to die, John Allen Muhammad does. Judge Millette will no doubt have this in mind.

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