N.Va. Looks To Be Next Stop for Sniper Case
Sunday, January 25, 2004
Behind-the-scenes preparations are underway for convicted snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo to be tried next in Northern Virginia courtrooms.
Although officials stressed that no decision has been made, authorities are proceeding as if a swap of the prisoners between Prince William and Fairfax counties will happen as soon as spring. The decision likely will be made in March, after their sentences are imposed by judges.
"I think it's ultimately what we'll do," said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who would prosecute Muhammad. "We will try him next."
The decision, which officials say hinges on cost, the odds of a conviction and other legal issues, is up to local Northern Virginia prosecutors. If they want to continue prosecutions, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) would delay any decision to extradite the pair to other states where charges are pending.
Muhammad, 43, was convicted in November in the sniper slaying of Dean H. Meyers in Prince William County. A jury in Virginia Beach sentenced him to death. Jurors in Chesapeake, Va., convicted Malvo, 18, in December in the killing of Linda Franklin in Fairfax and sentenced him to life in prison. Under the scenario being considered, Muhammad would next be tried in Franklin's killing and Malvo, in Meyers's. In all, Muhammad and Malvo are charged in 18 shootings in four states and the District, including the 10 sniper killings that terrorized the region in October 2002.
Should the next trials stay in Virginia, it would delay prosecutions against the pair in Alabama and Louisiana. They have also been charged in Maryland and the District.
Police and court officials are proceeding as though the swap in Virginia will occur. A crew of police officers and federal agents has continued working on the case at the sniper prosecution task force's headquarters in Centreville. In addition, sources said Prince William Circuit Court Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. has been chosen to handle Malvo's case. And there already have been discussions about busing in jurors instead of moving the case out of the area. Muhammad's first trial was moved to Virginia Beach, and Malvo's was moved to Chesapeake, to find an unbiased jury.
Keeping the cases in Virginia would not necessarily mean a replay of the first sniper trials. Sources close to the case said there has been talk of a plea deal that could keep Malvo from facing a death sentence in Virginia and allow him to testify against Muhammad. Jail officials said Muhammad hasn't been speaking to his attorneys, raising the possibility that he might have a different legal team or seek to represent himself, as he did at the start of his first trial.
And now that the facts have been outlined in court, it's likely that prosecutors and defense attorneys will hone or even change their strategies.
"They are two very different cases because of the individuals involved and their respective roles in what was done," said Prince William Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Richard A. Conway, who prosecuted Muhammad. He declined to comment on any possible plea discussions involving Malvo.
"There are many issues and many factors, and all of them will be taken into consideration by our office, to be sure."
Prosecutors portrayed Muhammad as the mastermind of the sniper spree, saying that he was the driving force behind the lethal "killing team." Muhammad's defense attorneys argued there is no proof that Muhammad killed anyone.