Maryland Not Seeking Death Penalty In Sniper Trial

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 3, 2006

Maryland prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for sniper John Allen Muhammad when he goes on trial in May, Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said yesterday.

Muhammad, 45, was sentenced to death in Virginia in March 2004 after being convicted of killing one of the 10 people slain during the October 2002 sniper shootings that terrified the Washington area for three weeks.

Gansler said he decided to seek life without the possibility of parole for Muhammad -- who is charged with randomly killing six people in Maryland with a teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo -- because under Maryland law, prosecutors would have had a hard time obtaining the death penalty in the case.

Gansler said his office consulted with relatives of the victims and was satisfied that seeking life in prison would satisfy all the interests in the case.

"We wanted to make sure the person who allegedly committed these crimes never roams our streets again," Gansler said. "Secondly, we wanted to provide an opportunity for the victims in this case to have their day in court."

Nelson Rivera, the husband of sniper victim Lori Lewis Rivera, said he understood the state's rationale for not seeking the death sentence and looks forward to the trial.

"It's something that won't return anything to us, but justice is going to be served," he said. "I'm satisfied by the way the state of Maryland has handled this."

Rivera's wife was shot at a Kensington gas station Oct. 3, 2002, as she was getting ready to vacuum her van. Rivera now lives in California.

Muhammad's attorney, Montgomery County Public Defender Paul DeWolfe, said he was pleased with Gansler's decision. "It saves the Montgomery County community considerable expense,'' he said.

The trial, originally expected to last as long as eight weeks, is likely to last no more than a month because about half the original estimated length would have been spent on the death-penalty phase, Gansler and DeWolfe said.

To obtain a death sentence for Muhammad in Maryland, prosecutors would have had to convince a jury that he was responsible for two or more premeditated murders that arose from the same incident.

This would have been difficult to prove in court because of the time and distance between the slayings, DeWolfe said.

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