Snipers to be tried in Maryland

Muhammad, Malvo face charges in 6 deaths in Montgomery County

May 11, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

Convicted snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo will return to stand trial in Maryland, site of six of the 10 sniper killings that paralyzed Washington-area residents with fear 2 1/2 years ago.

Their extradition across the Potomac to Montgomery County was announced yesterday by Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., coming just days after the final Virginia charges were dropped against Muhammad, 44, and Malvo, 20.

Maryland beat out two other states that had also vied for the right to try the pair next, Alabama and Louisiana.

While state prosecutors and victims' families have sought their chance in court against the men, they conceded that a new trial could reopen painful emotions - and the snipers' lawyers immediately criticized the move as a waste of money.

"Of the three jurisdictions, in [Warner's] mind, Montgomery County had the strongest argument for why they should have a chance to prosecute," said Kevin Hall, Warner's press secretary.

Authorities have linked the two men to more than a dozen killings and at least seven other shootings around the country, but Montgomery County had the most killings - six - of any jurisdiction.

"Those are families that perhaps need some closure and a community that needs some satisfaction," Hall said. Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said he expects both men to be transferred to Maryland within the week. He will then have 30 days to indict them and 180 days to take them to trial.

Gansler said he hopes to try them together for all six killings, seeking the death penalty against Muhammad and life in prison for Malvo.

In Virginia courts, both were convicted of murder - Muhammad sentenced to death, and Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, receiving two life sentences without parole.

Their lawyers condemned additional trials in Maryland as "a waste of taxpayers money" and "an exercise in absolute futility" because neither man is expected to see a day of freedom for the rest of their lives.

"There is a huge willingness to spend taxpayer dollars to obtain nothing different than the same results," said Peter D. Greenspun, the Fairfax attorney who has been representing Muhammad.

"Why there would be a lust to line up death sentences at a huge expense - a financial and emotional expense - is beyond me," Greenspun said, "but that's the politics of the death penalty."

Financial records last year showed the Virginia trials cost more than $4 million in public money.

But Montgomery prosecutor Gansler, who pushed to bring the snipers to Maryland, argued that the trials will cost no more than any other high-profile case. He called the additional prosecution "insurance" in case the Virginia convictions are reversed.

Muhammad's attorneys say they will petition the Virginia Supreme Court to rehear his appeal within the next two weeks. Malvo's lawyer said he no longer has the right to appeal - and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision renders him ineligible for execution. The governors agreed the men would return to Virginia to serve their sentences after the Maryland trial is complete.

After the men were captured at a Frederick County rest stop, federal prosecutors took custody of them. They sent Muhammad and Malvo to Virginia because they believed death sentences could most readily be obtained there, particularly for Malvo.

Greenspun claimed the states competing to prosecute Muhammad aren't just interested in death sentences - they want to be the one who can say they put Muhammad to death. "There is no other reason," he said.

Yet many relatives of the snipers' victims said they support a trial in Maryland, even though they're sure it will renew painful memories.

Vicki Snider's brother James "Sonny" Buchanan was shot while mowing the lawn in Kensington on Oct. 3, 2002, and she attended almost every day of Muhammad's and Malvo's trials in Virginia.

"The trials are hard," she said. "That's probably the worst part about everything coming out again. But what is necessary is that they're behind bars, and with appeals today, we don't know what can happen."

Snider - who lives in Rockville, just down the street from the Montgomery courthouse - predicted that a Maryland trial will be important for a community that was shocked at the cold brutality and apparent randomness of the snipers.

"Everyone was affected," she said of her community. "People were afraid to get gas. Outdoor sporting events were canceled. There was paper on the windows at schools.

"It was a very scary time, a very surreal time for me. It would be wonderful if you could say justice was already served and it was done and over, but it's not," Snider said.

Relatives of other victims also expressed support for the Maryland trials. Bob Meyers' brother, Dean H. Meyers, was killed at a Sunoco station near Manassas, Va., on Oct. 9, 2002. He said he hopes the new trials will yield the same results as the ones in Virginia - death for Muhammad and life in prison for Malvo.

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