- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Rockville jury yesterday, following four hours of deliberation, found sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad guilty of first-degree murder in all six Montgomery County slayings in 2002.

It was the second conviction for Muhammad, 45, for his role in the October shooting spree that left 10 persons dead and three wounded in the Washington area.

“It’s a good thing that we had this trial,” said Vijay Walekar, whose brother, Premkumar, was fatally shot in Aspen Hill on Oct. 3, 2002. “Now we know for sure who killed who.”

In 2003, a Virginia Beach jury sentenced Muhammad to death for capital murder in the shooting of Dean Harold Meyers and other charges. He could be executed as soon as three years from now, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office said yesterday.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said Muhammad will be shipped back to Virginia “within a week” of his sentencing hearing.

Authorities said they brought Muhammad to Maryland to give victims’ families their day in court, and for insurance in case Muhammad’s Virginia conviction is overturned on appeal.

Muhammad will be sentenced Thursday morning by Circuit Judge James L. Ryan where prosecutors will ask for life in prison without parole on each murder count, and not the death penalty.

The trial will end up costing taxpayers more than $1 million, according to corrections officials.

After Muhammad is sentenced, he will be sent back to Sussex State Prison’s death row. His accomplice and protege, Lee Boyd Malvo, will be returned to Red Onion State Prison in southwest Virginia.

Malvo earlier pleaded guilty to the six Maryland murders in a deal that will give him six life sentences. A Chesapeake, Va., jury in 2003 found Malvo guilty for his role in the Meyers murder and other charges and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Mr. Walekar said he believed Malvo, 21, when he testified last week that Muhammad pulled the trigger in 10 of the 13 sniper shootings.

“I always had a hunch that Muhammad was the one who killed my brother,” Mr. Walekar said.

Muhammad represented himself entirely through the monthlong trial, after dismissing his attorneys from the state public defender’s office in March.

Only three victims’ relatives were in court yesterday, though others had attended parts of the trial.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” said Ola Martin, whose brother, James D. Martin, was fatally shot on Oct. 2, 2002, outside a Shopper’s Food Warehouse in Wheaton.

Muhammad maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and his standby attorneys said he will appeal this verdict because he was able to subpoena only nine of the 150 witnesses he wanted to call.

Prosecutors said Muhammad had months to prepare the proper paperwork for subpoenas but failed to do so in time.

“We feel very solid about any appellate problems down the road,” said Mr. Gansler, who is running for attorney general. Deputy State’s Attorney Katherine Winfree prosecuted the case.

While an attempt to extort $10 million from authorities became evident during the spree, Muhammad’s defense was that the government framed him.

All 12 jurors declined to speak with reporters afterward, but Muhammad’s standby attorneys said they thought he was framed.

“I don’t think it’s in Mr. Muhammad to apologize because he’s innocent,” said J. Wyndal Gordon, Muhammad’s standby attorney.

Muhammad’s strongest witness was a man who saw a white truck at the scene of Mr. Walekar’s murder on Oct. 3, 2002. The man said the truck was in the same parking spot where prosecutors said the shot came from.

Muhammad and Malvo were arrested in a blue Chevrolet Caprice, after weeks of speculation that the snipers were driving a white box truck.

The trial revealed little new information or suspense, apart from Malvo’s dramatic testimony.

He said that two phases developed during the spree — first a scheme to shoot six persons a day for a month, and then to target children and police with explosives.

Malvo, who once said he would have died for Muhammad, last week had a different view of the man he had considered a father figure.

“I think he’s a coward,” Malvo testified, and then turned and faced Muhammad directly. “You took me into your house and you made me a monster, man.”

When asked why he testified Malvo said, “I am not proud of myself, and I’m just trying to make amends, if possible.”


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