- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to stop the execution of D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday night seven years after he and his then-teenage accomplice terrorized the District, Maryland and Virginia.

The court’s decision exhausts Muhammad’s legal options, leaving an unlikely last-minute intervention by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as his only chance for a reprieve from the death penalty.

Muhammad’s execution is scheduled to take place at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., at 9 p.m.

The Supreme Court denied, without comment, a petition asking that the execution be stayed. However, Justice John Paul Stevens in a statement on behalf of himself, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, criticized the state for not giving the court as much time to review the matter as the justices would have preferred.

He said justices ordinarily would have considered Muhammad’s petition at the court’s conference later this month, but had to expedite its consideration of the request.

“By denying Muhammad’s stay application, we have allowed Virginia to truncate our deliberative process on a matter — involving a death-row inmate — that demands the most careful attention,” Justice Stevens wrote.

Muhammad’s attorney, Jonathan Sheldon, said the fact that three Supreme Court justices weighed in on Muhammad’s case underscores flaws in Virginia’s court system.

Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, then 17, killed 10 people over a three-week period in October 2002. Malvo is sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Muhammad was sentenced to death for the killing of Dean Harold Meyers, a civil engineer who was fatally shot while pumping gas in Manassas on Oct. 9, 2002.

Dean Harold Meyers’ brother, Robert Meyers, will be among the witnesses to the execution.

“We’re not taking the position that this is a celebration in any way,” he said. “This is very sobering. It is very permanent. We don’t take it lightly. So it’s part of the process. It is what has been justifiably authorized, but nevertheless, it is what it is. Whenever a person’s life is taken, it is not a pleasant circumstance.”

The state has invited the surviving victims and victims’ family members from across the country to witness Muhammad’s execution, a practice introduced to Virginia by Gov. George Allen in 1994.

Citing privacy concerns, Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, declined to say how many victims and family members will be attending or the specific arrangements made for them.

Victims and family members attending the execution will be sequestered from the media, four members of which will witness the event. Officials say the state has received a large number of requests from reporters and victims and their family members to witness the execution.

Paul LaRuffa was one of those invited. The former pizzeria owner was shot five times by Malvo during a robbery in early September 2002. He said he has no plans to attend.

“I don’t need to watch him die,” Mr. LaRuffa said. “I don’t have to watch him die to make me anymore whole, but the caveat is that I understand completely the people that are there. For me, I elected not to let him take another day of my life or waste another day. I don’t want to be there.”

Mr. LaRuffa said he is sending a letter to be given to all the victims and family members who attend.

As for how he will be spending the evening, Mr. LaRuffa said he will be surrounded by those he loves — his wife, son and three grandchildren among them — enjoying a big family dinner, “which to me is just more valuable than watching John Muhammad die,” he said.

The shooting spree in the Washington area began Oct. 2 when James Martin, a 55-year-old program analyst at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was killed in a grocery store parking lot in Wheaton. The rampage ended on Oct. 24, 2002, when Muhammad and Malvo were arrested after they were found sleeping in their 1990 Chevrolet Caprice at a rest stop near Myersville, Md.

The pair is also suspected of a number of other shootings across the county.

Muhammad had been housed at Sussex I State Prison, but was moved to one of three prison cells near the death chamber.

Muhammad is allowed one visit from his immediate family. His attorneys and spiritual advisers are allowed to visit him until the time of his execution. A clergy member may accompany him into the death chamber.

Death-row inmates receive a last meal of their choice, but corrections officials do not release that information until the day of the execution and only with the inmate’s permission.

Virginia corrections officials say an inmate being executed enters the death chamber and is strapped to a padded table in view of witnesses. Once the inmate is restrained, officials close the curtains to the two separate viewing rooms, where reporters and family members are housed. After intravenous lines have been inserted in the inmate’s arms, the curtains are reopened and the director gives the order to proceed with the execution.

Muhammad will be executed by lethal injection — the default method in Virginia, which allows inmates to choose between lethal injection and electrocution. Three chemicals will be administered. The first puts the inmate to sleep, the second stops the person’s breathing, and the final injection stops the heart. Death takes between five and 10 minutes.

Afterward, the curtains are closed and witnesses are escorted out.

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