- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Virginia prosecutors and judges, not Gov. Mark Warner, will decide where convicted snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo will be prosecuted next, a Fairfax County prosecutor said yesterday.

“I don’t know where this business got going that the governor will decide where they go next. That’s not true,” said Robert F. Horan, Fairfax commonwealth’s attorney.

“The governor will decide whether they get shipped out of state any time. But traditionally that’s not done until all the Virginia litigation is completed. Until there’s a decision made on what we’re going to do with the pending Virginia action, there’s no gubernatorial decision that has to be made,” Mr. Horan said.

Mr. Horan said that by mid-February he and prosecutors in Prince William and Spotsylvania counties will have decided where Muhammad and Malvo will go. Prosecutors then will issue a request for transfer to be signed by circuit court judges where the two snipers are being held, Mr. Horan said.

“We all have pending charges against these people. My grand jury has indicted Muhammad, so I have charges pending here. Spotsylvania has indicted both Muhammad and Malvo, so they have pending charges there,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Warner, who previously said the governor would decide where the snipers would go next by March 10, when they both will be formally sentenced, agreed with Mr. Horan’s assessment.

“He probably won’t act if, by mid-February, a Virginia prosecutor has asked to be able to prosecute these guys,” said Ellen Qualls, Mr. Warner’s spokeswoman. “What I was saying previously was that the governor would meet with Virginia prosecutor, if there was some feeling that they should be prosecuted out of state.”

Muhammad, 43, and Malvo, 18, were found guilty on two counts each of capital murder for the 13 sniper shootings that left 10 persons dead and three wounded in the Washington area in October 2002. Both men also have been linked to nine other shootings in five states before the Washington-area shootings .

A Virginia Beach jury recommended in November that Muhammad be put to death for the Oct. 9, 2002, fatal shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. A Chesapeake, Va., jury recommended Malvo receive life in prison without parole for the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot.

Muhammad has been transferred back to Prince William County since his trial in Virginia Beach to ensure a fair and impartial jury. Malvo remains in Chesapeake after having his trial moved from Fairfax. Both will receive formal sentences in Northern Virginia on March 10, which is largely a formality. Judges are not allowed to change a sentence from life in prison to death, and rarely ever reduce death sentences to life in prison.

During the past month, it looked increasingly as if Muhammad’s and Malvo’s next trials would be flipped, with Muhammad going to Fairfax Circuit Court and Malvo going to Prince William. But the snipers also could be prosecuted in Spotsylvania County for the Oct. 11, 2002, fatal shooting of Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, at a Massoponax gas station. Prosecutors in Maryland, Alabama and Louisiana, where the snipers are accused of committing other fatal shootings, have clamored for their chance to prosecute.

There was no clear authority to resolve the situation, so all eyes looked to Mr. Warner for a solution. But although Mr. Warner’s office promised to have an answer before formal sentencing, it seemed unsure of how to proceed. Thus, Mr. Horan’s definitive statement ends a month of confusion that extended even to Muhammad’s and Malvo’s attorneys.

“I have not heard anything from anybody. I don’t have the slightest idea of what is going on or what is about to go on,” said Craig S. Cooley, Malvo’s attorney.

“All I know is what I’ve read in the paper,” said Jonathan Shapiro, Muhammad’s attorney. “My preference is that they don’t prosecute him anymore.”

Still, prosecutors in other states, particularly in the South, remain intent on having trials for Muhammad and Malvo.

“Some day, sooner or later, even if it takes 10 years, I’m going to bring those guys down here and try them,” said John Sinquefield, First District Attorney in Baton Rouge, La., where the snipers have been linked to the Sept. 23, 2002 fatal shooting of Hong Im Ballenger, 45, outside a beauty-supply store.

“I believe I have a good case, based on the evidence, but I’m willing to wait my turn,” Mr. Sinquefield said.

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