Supreme Court rejects D.C. area sniper's appeal

By Josh White and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 2009; B04

Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad's scheduled execution will go forward Tuesday unless Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine intervenes, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the sniper's final legal appeal.

Muhammad, 48, has exhausted all appeals of his capital murder conviction in the slaying of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a Prince William County gas station on Oct. 9, 2002. Muhammad's last chance rests with Kaine (D).

Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Kaine, said the governor was aware of the Supreme Court's decision but had not yet announced his own decision on clemency. The governor can allow the execution to occur as scheduled, delay it or commute Muhammad's sentence.

Muhammad's attorneys had argued that the sniper is mentally ill and that he should have been granted a competency hearing before his trial, at which he represented himself briefly. Muhammad has maintained his innocence.

If his execution goes forward, Muhammad will have a brief opportunity to speak before deadly chemicals are injected into his arms. Several victims' family members plan to attend the execution at the Greensville Correctional Center, near Jarratt, south of Richmond.

Members of the large regional law enforcement task force that tracked Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, also plan to attend.

Federal authorities sent Muhammad's first prosecution to Prince William rather than Maryland in part because of Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert's decades-long success in getting the death penalty and also because Virginia has a relatively swift path to execution.

Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, was convicted of capital murder for another sniper killing, in Fairfax County. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The pair also were linked to shootings in several other states.

Although the execution will come seven years after the shootings, it will be less than six years after a jury found him guilty of capital murder.

Supreme Court justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor objected to the court's haste in declining Muhammad's case Monday, saying it "highlights once again the perversity of executing inmates before their appeals process has been fully concluded."

Stevens, writing for the three, said Virginia had short-circuited the process by scheduling Muhammad's execution for Tuesday night, earlier than the court would normally have reviewed his petition.

"By denying Muhammad's stay application, we have allowed Virginia to truncate our deliberative process on a matter -- involving a death row inmate -- that demands the most careful attention," Stevens wrote.

He said he did not disagree with the court's ultimate decision that Muhammad's petition did not warrant the court's consideration.

After the court made its decision, Jon Sheldon, part of the team representing Muhammad, expressed a similar concern about the rapid pace of the review.

"In its effort to race John Allen Muhammad to his death before his appeals could be pursued, the state of Virginia will execute a severely mentally ill man, who also suffered from Gulf War syndrome, the day before Veterans Day," he said.

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