Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Residents in the Washington area said yesterday John Allen Muhammad got what he deserved Monday when a jury recommended that he be executed for masterminding last year’s sniper attacks.

“It was the right thing to do,” said Hakeem Abdul-Mateen, 29, of Landover, who attended the end of Ramadan celebration at the D.C. Armory yesterday. “I didn’t see the benefit of letting him rot in a prison cell for the rest of his life.”

Those sentiments were echoed throughout the region, where the sniper attacks left 10 dead and three wounded during a three-week span last October.

Muhammad, 42, was convicted Nov. 17 on two counts of capital murder for the Oct. 9, 2002, shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. Muhammad was found guilty of planning and coordinating an act of terrorism and of killing more than one person in three years.

Sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, is on trial in Chesapeake, Va., in the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of Linda Franklin at a parking lot outside Home Depot in Falls Church.

“[Muhammad] had it coming, ” said Mr. Abdul-Mateen, an Army reservist who is a data manager for the civil rights division of the Justice Department. “I, personally, didn’t have any qualms with it. He didn’t have any qualms about killing those people, and they had nothing to do with anything.”

Khan Zaid, 27, of Arlington, agreed with the jury’s verdict. A housewife whose husband is a cabdriver in the District, Mrs. Zaid said she and her family were in constant fear during the sniper’s spree.

“It was good that he got the death penalty,” said Mrs. Zaid, who attended the celebration at the Armory. “We were always worried. During the shootings, we were always watching the television and listening to the radio. I feel better now that it is about over.”

In Bowie, residents said they haven’t forgotten the terror cast over their neighborhood after Iran Brown, then 13, was shot Oct. 7, 2002, when he was dropped off at Benjamin Tasker Middle School.

Georgianna Day, manager at a Starbucks in Safeway in the Bowie New Town shopping center, said she agreed with the verdict, which was reached unanimously after less than six hours of deliberations.

“It was a fitting punishment,” said Miss Day, 45, of Landover Hills. “With the school where the shooting happened being so close, I remember how it felt during that time. I have no problem with the [jurys] decision at all.”

The crippling effect the attack had over the Bowie area has seemed to wane more than a year after the shooting. Yesterday, children on school break for the Thanksgiving holiday played outside. More than a dozen children played football on the lawn of Belair Baptist Church, just blocks away from the school where Iran, now 14, was shot.

Despite the area’s return to normalcy, residents said they cannot forgive Muhammad.

“He got what was coming to him, and normally, I don’t believe in the death penalty,” said Cliff Hart, 38, a special-events planner from Bowie. “It was one thing when it was happening in Montgomery County, but with [the school shooting], it hit a little closer to home.”

In Northern Virginia, residents had similar views about Muhammad’s sentence.

“I think he should be executed. He took the lives of several innocent people without conscience. It was not a war, and he was not defending himself,” said Riad Muwakkis, 34, of McLean, as he and Abdi Gure, 33, of Lorton, were preparing to pray at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church. Mr. Muwakkis, a software consultant, called Mr. Malvo “misguided.”

“He killed the people. He should be killed. It is not right to kill humans. He should be killed,” said Mr. Gure, a receptionist at an apartment complex.

A few residents, however, thought Muhammad should have been given life in prison.

Jose Ragmundo, 19, a restaurant dishwasher, said he is against sentencing Muhammad to death. “Only God should know if one is to live or die,” the Falls Church area man said.

Anne Gordon, 72, of Bethesda, agreed.

“I didn’t follow the trial too closely,” she said. “I’m opposed to the death penalty. Why not let him spend the rest of his life in jail? I’m not out for revenge.”

Tony VanBrackle, 45, a credit-card processor from Bethesda, said he learned a lot from the sniper attacks.

“Well, considering how [Muhammad] taught me to keep in constant motion while pumping gas, I think it is too bad there is no more painful means of imposing death than simply by injection,” he said as he stood at a shopping center at Democracy Boulevard and Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda.

John Mistry, manager of the Shell gas station in Kensington where Lori Lewis-Rivera became the sniper’s fifth victim, fully supported the jury’s decision.

“I hope that justice was done for the people that was killed,” said Mr. Mistry, 48, of Silver Spring. Mrs. Lewis-Rivera, 25, was vacuuming her employer’s minivan when she was fatally shot on Oct. 3, 2002.

Mr. Mistry’s customer, Heith Fenner, 32, of Fredericksburg, Va., said justice was served. Mr. Fenner lives about a mile from the Exxon gas station where Kenneth Bridges of Philadelphia was gunned down Oct. 11, 2002. “The death penalty is appropriate,” he said.

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