- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

Prosecutors in Louisiana, Alabama and Maryland are prepared to begin pre-trial proceedings against sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad within the next six months.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has given no indication where he might next send Muhammad. But the remaining Virginia prosecutor with a capital murder charge to bring against Muhammad said yesterday that if the 43-year-old Army veteran’s death sentence is upheld in the state Supreme Court, he will likely drop the charge, opening the door for extradition.

William F. Neely, Spotsylvania County commonwealth’s attorney, said he will drop the charges only if Mr. Warner promises to keep Muhammad in Virginia until the state Supreme Court delivers its ruling. A spokeswoman for the governor said yesterday that he will keep Muhammad in Virginia until that point.

“Currently, the governor is not inclined to consider any extradition requests prior to Muhammad’s direct appeal concluding,” said Ellen Qualls, Mr. Warner’s spokeswoman. “After that, any consideration of extradition would be done with consultation with the prosecutors from Prince William and Spotsylvania counties, as well as the office of the attorney general.”

An extradition agreement would include the provision that when Muhammad’s entire appeals process in Virginia concludes — which would likely be in two to four years — he be returned immediately to the state for execution.

Muhammad’s direct appeal is scheduled to be heard by the Virginia Supreme Court early next month, and a written ruling is expected in late winter or early spring.

After that, prosecutors in Louisiana, Alabama and Maryland want to try Muhammad.

He is linked to fatally shooting six persons in Montgomery County.

“If they choose to send them to Maryland … we are intimately familiar with the facts in the case and would be prepared to go forward,” said Douglas F. Gansler, Montgomery County state’s attorney. “We would be prepared to try them. At this point, we have not had any discussion with the people from Virginia, because they have not exhausted their legal remedies yet.”

Muhammad could also be sent to Baton Rouge, La., where he would be tried in the Sept. 23, 2002, fatal shooting of Hong Im Ballenger, 45, outside a beauty store, or to Montgomery, Ala., where he would be tried in the Sept. 21, 2002, fatal shooting of Claudine Lee Parker, 52, and in the shooting of Kellie Adams, 24, outside a liquor store.

Direct appeals are strictly a review of whether the law was followed in the finding of a defendant’s guilt and in his sentencing, not a review of the facts.

Muhammad was sentenced to death by a Prince William judge in March after a Virginia Beach jury found him guilty on two charges of capital murder last November.

The case was moved there because of pre-trial publicity.

Muhammad was found guilty of masterminding the 13 Washington-area sniper shootings over three weeks in October 2002 that he carried out with his then 17-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo.Ten persons were killed in the spree. Malvo was convicted in the Oct, 9, 2002, fatal shooting of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station.

Muhammad and Malvo, 19, have been connected to nine other shootings before October 2002, five of them fatal, which they committed for personal revenge, practice in killing innocent people, and to rob their victims to finance their killing spree.

Malvo was convicted of capital murder in Chesapeake last December and sentenced to life in prison for the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at the Falls Church Home Depot. A Fairfax County judge upheld the verdict in March.

Mr. Neely does not want to try Muhammad, but said Virginia authorities want Muhammad to remain on death row until the state Supreme Court delivers its ruling.

“If we release him, then our evidence is going to go with him,” Mr. Neely said. “We lose control over our evidence. Then if an appellate court were to reverse our decision, we would have trouble getting our evidence back” to retry Muhammad.

He also said prosecutors would not worry about a reversal after the direct appeal.

Mr. Neely does not want the Muhammad case because of the cost to taxpayers and the strain on his office and the Spotsylvania courthouse. A sniper prosecution would cost more than $2 million, Mr. Neely said, and would result in 50 to 100 felony cases being dismissed for speedy trial reasons.

Spotsylvania would have to virtually clear its docket for the Muhammad trial because its courthouse has only 1 courtrooms and Mr. Neely has only five assistant prosecutors.

As a result, many criminals already in custody would have to be released because they would end up being held more than five months, which is the maximum amount of time a defendant can be held in Virginia before being brought to trial.

Virginia’s attempt to gain a second death sentence for Muhammad faltered Tuesday when a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge refused to reconsider his dismissal of the case.

Judge Langhorne M. Keith ruled that Muhammad’s right to a speedy trial had been violated. Judge Keith said a detainer filed with the Prince William Jail in January by a Fairfax detective was an arrest, though Fairfax did not take physical custody of Muhammad until late May.

All three jurisdictions that are waiting to press capital murder charges against Muhammad also have detainers on file with Muhammad. But the speedy trial ruling in Fairfax applies only to charges in Virginia, the judge wrote in his decision.

That is another reason not to try Muhammad in Spotsylvania, though Mr. Neely said his detainer was filed with federal marshals in Baltimore when Muhammad was detained there immediately after his capture in late October 2002, and so the Fairfax ruling, which he called “controversial,” might not apply.

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