Residents Divided on Sniper Trial's Arrival in Md.

Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, shown in 2002, said costs of a Montgomery trial will be
Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, shown in 2002, said costs of a Montgomery trial will be "minimal." (By Victoria Arocho -- Associated Press)
By David Snyder and Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 12, 2005

As news spread across Montgomery County yesterday that John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are returning to the county for trial in the sniper shootings, some residents had a sense that the community finally would get its chance to judge the accused.

But there also was a sense, perhaps even stronger, that the chance might be gone. What, many asked, is the point of a trial when it is unlikely that Malvo and Muhammad will ever go free? Is it worth the cost -- emotional and monetary -- of trying two men who have been tried, convicted and sentenced?

At Leisure World Plaza, where Sarah Ramos, 34, was shot to death Oct. 3, 2002, while sitting on a bench outside the post office, several shoppers said they believed the two men should have been tried in Montgomery first because the county had the most victims -- six of the 10 who were shot to death. But now that the snipers have been convicted in Virginia, many questioned the time and money that would be spent prosecuting them again.

"They've been found guilty, and sentences have been given for the crimes they did," said Daniel W. Heath, 73, of Olney, a retired IBM employee who was at the plaza yesterday. "Why go through it again?" He called the new trial a "waste of money."

Kelly Ball, 19, who lives near the shopping center, said, "I don't think it's worth doing all over again."

"It's just more publicity for them [Malvo and Muhammad] and more grief for the families" of the victims, Ball said.

Muhammad, 44, has been sentenced to death in Virginia for a sniper killing in Prince William County. The Virginia Supreme Court last month upheld the sentence, but his appeals continue. Malvo was found guilty of one sniper killing in Fairfax County and sentenced to life in prison. He pleaded guilty to a second killing in Spotsylvania County and withdrew his appeals.

Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler was the first prosecutor to file murder charges against Muhammad and Malvo, charging them with six counts of first-degree murder Oct. 25, 2002 -- a day after they were apprehended. But federal authorities moved the first prosecution to Virginia, where the death penalty is far easier to obtain than in Maryland.

Gansler said yesterday that the costs of a Montgomery trial will be "minimal" and that the cost in dollars will be far outweighed by the benefits of bringing the snipers to justice.

Counterbalancing any monetary cost, Gansler said, "is the cost of human life that was taken -- six lives -- and the cost to their families. The cost to the schools and the children that were locked up every day; the sporting events that were canceled during that time; the costs to the psyche of the community, the paralysis."

County officials said there is no consensus on what the prosecution will cost. Ann S. Harrington, administrative judge for Montgomery Circuit Court, said "there will be additional expenses" but that no fixed estimates have been drawn up. Sheriff Raymond M. Kight said additional equipment will have to be purchased for courthouse security. Other county officials said there will be some additional costs.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said that although "it would be a very difficult time" for the families of victims, who will have to face the facts of the shootings once again, "it will help the larger community to put this behind us."

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