Sniper victims' families look to execution for justice

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 9, 2009

MOUNTAIN HOME, IDAHO -- The setting sun is streaming in the living room window of Marion Lewis's house as he puts aside his cigarette and starts telling the story of the day his daughter was murdered.

He is 57, a bulky, balding man sitting in his stocking feet. He has a brown bandanna around his neck, gray hair tied in a ponytail, and his glasses and a pack of cheap Seneca cigarettes are stuffed in his shirt pocket. He shoos away his two beagles, who retreat out the dog door.

He remembers the day, Oct. 3, 2002, when Lori Lewis Rivera was shot to death by the D.C. snipers at a gas station in Kensington. Two thousand miles away, her father was oblivious, out in the wilderness running a giant rock-crushing machine. Lewis stares at the floor as he recalls it, kneading his beefy hands and wiping away tears with his fingers.

He can still hear the phone ringing and ringing back at the motel where he was staying that day, as he stood in the shower washing off the grime and wondering who could be calling.

Seven years since John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo went on a homicidal rampage across the Washington area, their work still torments the families it touched.

But at 9 p.m. Tuesday, if all goes as scheduled, Muhammad, the mastermind, is to be executed in Virginia by injection -- bringing closure, justice and finality, victims' friends and families say, to a saga that haunts the community still. Malvo is serving a life term in prison without the possibility of parole.

"I don't have any doubt that I could pull the switch or push the plunger myself," Lewis said.

Between Oct. 2 and Oct. 24, 2002, when they were captured, Muhammad, then 41 and a former U.S. Army soldier from Louisiana, and Malvo, his 17-year-old sidekick, terrorized the District, Maryland and Virginia, shooting and killing people at random from the cover of their battered car. Sixteen people were shot, 10 fatally.

Their deadliest period was a 27-hour stretch spanning Oct. 2 and 3, in which six people were murdered within a few miles of each other in Montgomery County and Northwest Washington. Four more were slain and three more were wounded over the next two weeks. Five others had been killed and four others wounded by the pair, authorities think, in shootings across the country during the eight months leading up to the final bloodletting.

One of those killed Oct. 3 was Lori Lewis Rivera, a 25-year-old nanny and mother. She was vacuuming her employer's minivan at a Shell station at Connecticut and Knowles avenues when she was shot in the back. The bullet fragmented inside, destroying her left lung.

Now, her father wants to watch Muhammad's execution in the death chamber of Greensville Correctional Center, near Jarratt, south of Richmond. Technically, Muhammad is being executed for the Oct. 9 murder of Dean H. Meyers, 53, a civil engineer from Gaithersburg who was shot while buying gas near Manassas.

Lewis and his former son-in-law, Nelson Rivera, plan to travel to Virginia this week to witness the execution. (In the seven years since the shootings, Rivera has moved to California and remarried, and he has two more children.)

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