- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Victoria Snider knows her brother’s name isn’t likely to come up as prosecutors build the cases against suspects John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.

The bullet that killed James L. “Sonny” Buchanan can’t be definitively tied to the rifle found on the two defendants at the time of arrest. So prosecutors have focused their efforts on other killings.

But Mrs. Snider, 42, of Rockville, is determined to see that her younger brother’s senseless death is not buried under the mountain of evidence that is being compiled against the two defendants.

For the past three weeks, Mrs. Snider has been a stoic fixture in the Virginia Beach courthouse where Mr. Muhammad is on trial. She says she will do the same during Mr. Malvo’s trial, which begins Monday, five miles away in Chesapeake.

She’s here, she said, to honor the memory of her brother.

“I am standing in as his advocate, as he would for me,” Mrs. Snider said. “He supported anything I did.”

Mr. Buchanan’s slaying could be presented to jurors during the penalty phase of the trial, if either defendant is found guilty. Still, no one has told Mrs. Snider anything for certain.

Mrs. Snider is one of two victims’ family members who have been in Virginia Beach since the trial began. The other is Katrina Hannum, 24, the daughter of FBI analyst Linda Franklin. Most days, the two women sit in the second row behind the prosecutors. Other days, they sit in a viewing room next door set aside for the victims’ families.

“We try to support each other through this, but we’re in a club that none of us wants to belong to,” Mrs. Snider said.

Mr. Buchanan, 39, was fatally shot while mowing the lawn at Fitzgerald Auto Mall in White Flint at 7:41 a.m. on Oct. 3, the day five persons were killed by sniper fire in Montgomery County and the District. He was the first person shot that day.

Mrs. Franklin, 47, was fatally shot at 9:15 p.m. on Oct. 14 as she stood in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Falls Church. She was the ninth person killed in the Washington-area attacks that claimed 10 and left three wounded.

If the sniper trials last into the new year, as is likely, Mrs. Snider said she is ready. Instead of going back to Maryland to be with her family, her husband, William, and her three children may travel here to spend the holidays.

“It might be a Virginia Beach Christmas,” she said.

Since Mr. Muhammad’s trial began Oct. 14, other victims’ families have traveled and stayed one or two days to testify about their loved ones, talk about the day their lives changed, or watch prosecutors describe to jurors the details of their loved ones’ deaths. Then they leave.

Not Mrs. Snider. She has watched it all from a courtroom seat or in the viewing room.

“It’s very emotional, the testimony, because you understand the pain of each victim’s family,” she said. “You understand the devastation that the family goes through.”

But she can’t tell the jury or others in the courtroom about her brother, a man who spent much of his life helping others — the children in the Boys & Girls Clubs, his parents and siblings, and his sister and her family, especially when they needed a baby sitter.

“I’m here and I feel like he is in this. [The jury] may not hear about him, but he is part of this,” Mrs. Snider said.

When she drives the 230 or so miles back home on the weekends, she has two days to take care of her children, pay bills, and run errands.

During the week, Mr. Snider, 47, takes care of the couple’s 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. The couple’s 20-year-old son is a student at the University of Maryland.

“I have a very good husband. He does laundry,” she said. “It’s hard to take over 100 percent. He misses me.”

And she concedes, “It is hard on my children.”

“I’m so exhausted mentally and emotionally,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m in a fog.”

But when she prepares to leave and head back down to the trial, her daughter, Kate, hugs her and says, “‘Mom, I understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.’”

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and Mr. Malvo, 18, have been linked to last year’s October sniper spree as well as nine other shootings in five states.

Mr. Muhammad is on trial for the Oct. 9 murder of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. He faces one count of capital murder for killing two or more people in three years, and another count of capital murder under Virginia’s new antiterrorism statute. He also is charged with conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm.

Mr. Malvo goes on trial Monday for Mrs. Franklin’s slaying. Both suspects face the death penalty if convicted.

Mrs. Snider said that before Mr. Muhammad’s trial began, she thought life in prison would be sufficient punishment. “But now, seeing him in court, I have different feelings,” she said.

She is undecided about what should happen to Mr. Malvo. “I want the jury to make that decision,” she said.


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