Muhammad To Be Tried In Fairfax Sniper Case
County to Seek Death As 'Insurance Policy'
By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2004; Page B01
Fairfax County's chief prosecutor said yesterday that he has decided to go forward with a second death-penalty trial for John Allen Muhammad.
The convicted sniper could make his first court appearance in the next couple of weeks, lawyers said. Defense attorneys Jonathan Shapiro and Peter D. Greenspun were notified by the court yesterday that they have been appointed to represent Muhammad, 43, in the fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside a Fairfax Home Depot store. Circuit Court Judge Jonathan C. Thacher will preside over the trial, Greenspun said.
The selection of the same defense team that represented Muhammad in his first trial ended speculation about whether Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. would prosecute Muhammad in Franklin's slaying. Last year, Muhammad was convicted and sentenced to death in the slaying of Dean H. Meyers at a Prince William County gas station, one of 13 shootings -- 10 of them fatal -- in the Washington area during a three-week period in October 2002.
Co-conspirator Lee Boyd Malvo, 19, was convicted last year of capital murder in Franklin's slaying and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
"The only way to account for this is blood lust," Shapiro said yesterday of the decision to try Muhammad in Fairfax. "We have lots of issues about whether this prosecution is proper in light of the Prince William prosecution. It's going to be a huge fight. [Greenspun and I] feel we owe it to John to agree to do this."
Horan said last month that if the General Assembly's protracted budget disputes significantly threatened funding for his office, he would reconsider prosecuting Muhammad, who is sitting on death row in a maximum security prison. Those disputes now resolved, Horan yesterday cited the gravity of the shootings as his reason for pushing forward despite criticism that the cost of a second trial would be a waste of taxpayer money.
"The magnitude of what was done called for a trial," Horan said. "You can't put a value on the human lives that were taken here."
Horan has said a second conviction could serve as "an insurance policy" in case an appeals court overturned the first conviction. He said it would be more efficient to try Muhammad now than in five years, when an appeal -- potentially to the U.S. Supreme Court -- could set him free.
"It would be very hard to put the cases on then . . . and it seems to make sense to try him now while all the witnesses are available and ready, willing and able to testify," Horan said. "If anything should happen to the first conviction, hopefully there would be a second one here."
It is unclear when Muhammad will make his first appearance in Fairfax.
"I expect it won't be for some period of time," Greenspun said. "Whether it's a week, or two, or three, I can't tell you.
"This seems like a terrible waste of taxpayer resources. If [Horan] is doing this for some sort of insurance, then how much confidence does he have in the conviction [by] Prince William?"
Greenspun said it was too soon to say whether his defense team would request a change of venue to obtain unbiased jurors, as it did for Muhammad's first trial, which took place in Virginia Beach.
As of yesterday, Muhammad had not been moved to Fairfax from his cell at the Sussex I death row prison in Waverly, according to Larry Traylor, spokesman for the state Corrections Department. Fairfax sheriff's deputies said they have not received any orders to pick Muhammad up.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company