"We didn't get it, but at least we fought for it," Muhammad wrote. "Please tell your mothers and fathers that I will always be grateful for their children."
Often the letters contained mere pleasantries. Muhammad stayed unfailingly upbeat, Gordon said. And he always signed off the same way: "Muhammad 'Innocent' still fighting on death row."
Gordon visited Muhammad just once on death row, blaming the 200-mile distance from Baltimore. Sheldon, Muhammad's most recent lawyer, said in an interview that Gordon's absence seemed odd if he felt such a bond with Muhammad. "Where was he for three years?" Sheldon asked.
On Nov. 7, Gordon drove down from Baltimore to Greensville, the site of Virginia's execution chamber. Muhammad had been transferred there from death row. The two spent four hours together, he said, and Muhammad mixed talk of his family with morbid jokes about his looming death.
On Tuesday afternoon, Muhammad met with his son, Lindbergh, 27, and then with his two lawyers from his Fairfax County, Va., murder trial.
Then Gordon returned. Muhammad had shaved his face with an electric razor. His last meal came during this time: chicken with red sauce, chocolate cake, strawberry swirl cake and pineapples.
After nightfall, Gordon stepped outside and spoke at length to reporters massed in the parking lot. In comments that sounded as if he were trying to retry the case, he raised the specter of other possible suspects and claimed that a hole in the trunk of Muhammad's Chevrolet was not big enough to be a gun port.
"We don't discuss guilt or innocence," Gordon said. "We feel like Mr. Muhammad was wrongly convicted based upon the evidence we're aware of."
Gordon described Muhammad in unusually charitable terms. "He's a very authentic person," he said, "very genuine, great sense of humor, kind heart, would help anyone if he could."
Sheldon arrived at the prison as Gordon was holding court. "I was surprised when I saw him at the prison, actually," Sheldon recalled. And he felt Gordon's comments were inappropriate and disrespectful to victims because the appeals were exhausted. "Too little, too late, wrong time," he said.
The two lawyers had developed divergent views of Muhammad. Sheldon, who represented Muhammad for three years, saw a client "delusional" about his innocence.
Gordon, by contrast, saw a seemingly sane man who had been ill-served by the justice system. And, he says, the book will present Muhammad's story "without the filters and rules of evidence that prevented him from getting things in court."
"I think Wyndal talked to him more about these innocence theories," Sheldon said. "I think that endeared him to John Muhammad in a way that enabled Wyndal to have a close relationship with him."
When Gordon went back into the prison, he joined Sheldon outside Muhammad's cell. Saddened by what was about to happen, Gordon asked the condemned man to help brighten his mood. Muhammad, he said, spoke of how he'd changed the views of a white supremacist on his death-row cell block. He claimed the man even wept when Muhammad was moved to Greensville.
A few minutes before the 9 p.m. execution time, six burly prison guards interrupted the conversation. Ushering the lawyers away, they told Muhammad, "It's time."