- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Jurors yesterday recommended that John Allen Muhammad be executed for killing a Gaithersburg man and masterminding last year’s random shootings in the Washington area that left nine others dead.

“It’s a victory for society. I’m hopeful it will send a message to people who are like-minded,” Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said outside the courthouse. “This type of conduct can’t be tolerated.”

The courtroom was still and Muhammad showed no emotion when the judge’s clerk announced the sentence at 10:50 a.m. After four hours of deliberation on Friday and another 90 minutes yesterday, the jury unanimously recommended two death sentences, as well as 13 years in prison for two lesser offenses.

Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. can reduce the jury’s recommendation to life in prison without parole when Muhammad formally is sentenced on Feb. 12. However, Virginia judges hardly ever reduce a jury’s recommendation.

Muhammad wore the same beige sports jacket and the same stony expression he has worn during his six-week trial. Only two relatives of shooting victims — Bob Meyers and Larry Meyers Jr. — were in the courtroom. The rest of the victims’ relatives left over the weekend.

“Today, I believe that justice has been served. I do not revel in the decision,” said Bob Meyers, brother of Dean Harold Meyers, for whose slaying Muhammad was convicted and sentenced. “This isn’t a revenge thing. I just feel like what was done was right.”

Bob Meyers said he would attend Muhammad’s execution if given the opportunity. “I hate what he did. But I can’t say that I hate him,” he said. He quoted from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Chapter 12, which says not to take revenge but to “leave room for God’s wrath.”

Larry Meyers Jr., Dean Meyers’ nephew, read a brief statement: “The people have spoken, and now God will judge Muhammad.”

The convicted sniper will not know whether he will face additional prosecution until he is sentenced early next year, a spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Mark Warner said yesterday. Muhammad and his companion, Lee Boyd Malvo, are accused of last year’s 13 Washington-area sniper attacks and nine other shootings in five states.

Muhammad was convicted Nov. 17 on two counts of capital murder for the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. Muhammad was found guilty of planning and coordinating an act of terrorism — the three-week sniper rampage in which 10 persons were killed and three wounded in October 2002 — and of killing more than one person in three years.

Mr. Malvo, 18, has been on trial in nearby Chesapeake, Va., since Nov. 10 in the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot. The prosecution rested its case against the teenager yesterday. The outcome of the Muhammad trial will not be announced in the Malvo trial.

“Obviously, we’re bitterly disappointed with the verdict the jury has returned,” said defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun. “The sanction of another death by the government is not likely to benefit anyone.”

The 12-member jury stood before reporters outside the courthouse yesterday, but only five spoke. It was evident that at least two of the jurors had to overcome serious reservations about the death penalty before making their decision.

“I made my decision last night. I did not sleep at all last night,” said Dennis Bowman, a 52-year old hardware-store worker who said he voted for life in prison instead of death on Friday.

Mr. Bowman said he changed his mind because he said he thought Muhammad posed a serious threat of future danger, one of the aggravating factors under the law that must be proven by prosecutors.

Elizabeth Young, a 45-year old former naval intelligence officer, said that because of her experience on the jury, she might become an anti-death-penalty activist in the future.

“But for now I feel I had to meet my obligations as a juror,” she said.

When the jurors went back into the courthouse, they were applauded by the FBI agents, Prince William County police detectives and other police officials who worked on the sniper investigation.

Muhammad’s trial began Oct. 14 with his surprising move to represent himself for two days. He cross-examined Paul LaRuffa of Clinton, Md., whose laptop was taken from his car after he was shot six times on Sept. 5, 2002, and was found with Muhammad at his arrest.

Muhammad also told the jury, “We know something happened. [The authorities] wasn’t there. I was, and I know what happened.”

Two days later, Muhammad returned his defense to Mr. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro. But the two attorneys could do little more than try to chip away at the prosecution’s case, which was circumstantial but overwhelming, with 450 exhibits and 138 witnesses.

The defense cast Muhammad as having been so devastated by the loss of his three children in a custody battle that he became a different person. The stable and loyal family man became a homicidal fiend intent on destroying his ex-wife, Mildred and, taking back his children. Prosecutors implied to the jury that this was his main motive for the sniper shootings, despite his demands for $10 million from the government. Judge Millette, however, said there was not enough evidence to make that argument.

Matthew Cella contributed to this report in Washington.

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