- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

Prosecutors in Northern Virginia have rejected an Alabama district attorney’s arguments that snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo should stand trial in the South next, partly because, legal analysts say, local officials want to secure a death sentence for Malvo.

Keeping the snipers in Virginia and possibly swapping the cases between Prince William and Fairfax counties would give Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert a chance to secure the death sentence for Malvo — the penalty top law enforcement officials expected when they assigned the trials to Virginia. Virginia ranks second in the nation behind Texas for number of death sentences.

Last month, a jury in Chesapeake recommended that Malvo, 18, be sentenced to life in prison for the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Home Depot in Falls Church. The same jury convicted Malvo of two capital murder charges.

“They were on the news early and often saying, ‘Let’s try them in Virginia, we have a juvenile death sentence, and we’ll get it,’” said Christopher Collins, a defense attorney from Richmond who has worked on several capital murder cases with Malvo’s attorney Craig S. Cooley. “Now, they sort of have egg on their face.”

Joseph Bowman, a defense attorney in Northern Virginia who also worked on several capital cases, said he believes Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who prosecuted Malvo, is angry that he didn’t get a death sentence in the case.

“I suspect [Mr. Horan’s] really angry he didn’t get what he wanted, because there never was an issue in this case about whether or not Malvo was guilty,” Mr. Bowman said. “The issue was always whether or not he was going to be sentenced to death. Horan wanted a death penalty and he didn’t get it. He’s got to be angry about that. He looks like the loser and Cooley looks like the winner.”

In two letters recently sent to Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Montgomery, Ala., District Attorney Ellen Brooks argued that both men should be tried for different shootings as an “insurance policy” in the event either conviction is overturned.

This should be done during the appeals process, she said, which is guaranteed for Muhammad. Malvo’s attorneys are considering whether to appeal his conviction.

“Every case in Virginia will be tried under the same laws. It would be wiser and more economical for Alabama, which has different laws, to try these individuals while the Virginia laws are tested on appeal,” Mrs. Brooks wrote.

However, Mr. Horan told The Washington Times that the convicted snipers would stay in Virginia until he and other prosecutors finished their cases against both men.

“These guys committed crimes against a number of different jurisdictions in Virginia, and Virginia has a right to try them for those crimes before they ship them off to another state,” Mr. Horan said.

Last week, a spokeswoman for Mr. Warner told The Times that the governor would not extradite the snipers until prosecutors in Virginia complete their cases against the two men.

Prosecutors in Virginia and Alabama said there is no interstate rivalry preventing cooperation on whether and where the snipers should stand trial next.

“We don’t see ourselves in competition with Alabama or Louisiana or any other state,” said Richard A. Conway, Prince William County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney who helped prosecute Muhammad. “We all share the same goals, bringing these guys to justice in our respective jurisdictions as expeditiously as possible.”

A Virginia Beach jury in November recommended that Muhammad, 43, be sentenced to death for the Oct. 9, 2002, murder of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. The same panel convicted Muhammad of two counts of capital murder.

Muhammad and Malvo are scheduled to be formally sentenced March 10. After that, it is likely that Mr. Horan and Mr. Ebert will swap the cases.

Another outcome is that the snipers could stand trial in Spotsylvania County for the Oct. 11, 2002, fatal shooting of Kenneth H. Bridges, 53. Mr. Bridges was killed at a gas station in Massaponax, Va.

But Mr. Horan said it would be “far more difficult” to try a capital murder case in Spotsylvania than in Prince William or Fairfax. “It’s a lot easier now for Ebert and myself to do them because we already know the cases inside and out,” he said.

Mr. Horan, who has served as Fairfax’s top prosecutor since 1967, said personal vindication was not motivation to keep the snipers in Virginia.

“As a lawyer, I argue the case and then it’s up to the citizens to decide. Upset is not a word I use when talking about the decision a jury makes,” Mr. Horan said. “I happen to believe he deserved something different than the jury did.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear arguments in the fall about whether to abolish the death penalty for juvenile offenders. The court is expected to announce a ruling by July 2005.

Also, the Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that would raise the age at which convicted murderers can be executed from 16 to 18.

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