- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler will get his chance to try the Washington-area snipers amid questions about whether another trial is necessary and will bring closure to victims’ families.

“It’s just a show trial,” said Jonathan Shapiro, the Fairfax defense lawyer who represented sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad before the Virginia Beach jury that recommended that he be sentenced to death in 2003.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner announced Tuesday that he will transfer Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo to Maryland so the pair can be tried in Montgomery County, where the shooting spree that killed 10 and wounded three others in October 2002 began and ended.

But Mr. Shapiro said the trial will benefit Mr. Gansler, who plans to run for state attorney general next year, more than anyone else.

Mr. Shapiro also said there is no need to prosecute Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the crimes.

“The guy has two life sentences and no appeals and cannot get the death sentence. It’s a sheer waste of money,” Mr. Shapiro said.

Malvo is not eligible for the death sentence because the Supreme Court ruled in March that those who were minors at the time of their crimes cannot be executed.

Craig Cooley, Malvo’s attorney before the Chesapeake jury that spared Malvo the death penalty in favor of a recommendation for a life sentence in 2003, agreed.

“If I were a Maryland taxpayer, I might have a concern, but I’m not a Maryland taxpayer,” Mr. Cooley said.

Security expenses topped $500,000 for each of the four jurisdictions where Muhammad and Malvo were jailed in Virginia — in Prince William and Fairfax counties, where they were charged, and in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, where they were tried. A member of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department said he expected the same level of security for the Maryland trials.

But Mr. Gansler said financial considerations do not outweigh the human loss suffered by Montgomery County and that justice must be served.

“There was maximum cost in terms of the crimes committed and the murders that occurred,” he said. “Six people were murdered in Montgomery County, allegedly, by these two men. There are six people who have not had their day in court. There is a community that has not had their day in court.”

But Mr. Gansler also said a conviction of Muhammad could be valuable insurance policy if the death sentence in Virginia is overturned. Fairfax prosecutors had intended to secure a second death penalty for the 44-year old Army veteran, but when they waited too long to begin the trial, it was dismissed on a technicality.

Mr. Gansler contends that a death penalty under a different set of facts and a different law was a better insurance policy than a nearly identical pair of death penalties in Virginia.

Mr. Gansler, 42, was the first to press charges against Muhammad and Malvo on Oct. 25, 2002, at a massive press conference one day after the snipers were caught. He angered federal and local prosecutors, who were trying to coordinate a legal strategy.

Mr. Gansler was not invited to the Nov. 6, 2002, press conference at which U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the snipers would be tried first in Virginia.

Less than a month after the press conference, anonymous lawyers filed formal complaints with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission against Mr. Gansler for violating pretrial publicity standards in trials that predated the sniper spree.

In November 2003, the Maryland Court of Appeals reprimanded Mr. Gansler for out-of-court statements that he made in three specific trials. The court said it was the first time that a sitting Maryland prosecutor had been publicly reproved.

Mr. Gansler said he did not seek out the case after the snipers were sent to Virginia for trial.

“At no time did I lobby for this case,” he said.

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