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Muhammad is executed for sniper killing

Local residents recall the terror of the Beltway sniper attacks at Seven Corners Shopping Center in Fairfax County, Va., where Linda Franklin, 47, was shot and killed in the Home Depot parking garage. Artifacts courtesy of the Newseum.

The killings began with no explanation. Then the snipers left cryptic notes and phone messages demanding $10 million, just as millions of Washington area residents were distracted by white vans and other mistaken clues that authorities were chasing.

The shootings led Washingtonians to change their daily rhythms. People zigzagged through parking lots and instructed their children to duck down in cars while at gas stations. Schools canceled outdoor recess and football games. The shootings were so frightening because they were so random.

In the end, Muhammad and Malvo were tracked down because of a fingerprint left at an Alabama shooting referred to in one of the notes the snipers left behind. Investigators put that together with Muhammad's purchase of the dark blue Chevy in New Jersey, a stolen Bushmaster rifle from Washington state, and an alert truck driver who noticed the Caprice at a highway rest stop in Maryland.

Despite scores of witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence -- the sum of which pointed directly at Muhammad and Malvo and led to capital murder convictions -- law enforcement officials have not pinned down a solid motive for the shootings and cannot say for sure who specifically fired the fatal shots.

Muhammad's ex-wife, who lived with his children in the Maryland suburbs, where many of the shootings occurred, has speculated that he did it to frighten or even kill her.

Prosecutors relied on untested Virginia terrorism laws that allowed them to seek convictions even if they couldn't prove which of the two suspects fired the gun.

In the 2003 trial in Virginia Beach, Muhammad represented himself for the first two days, making rambling but cogent points about the fact that no one saw him shoot a single bullet. His attorneys later took over, but jurors ultimately convicted him and sentenced him to death.

Muhammad was put to death for a single killing: the Oct. 9, 2002, sniper slaying of Dean H. Meyers of Gaithersburg, who was shot shortly after 8 p.m. while he pumped gas into his Mazda at a Sunoco station outside Manassas.

Federal authorities, who could have allowed Muhammad to be tried in any of the jurisdictions that saw a sniper slaying, chose the Meyers case because Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert had a stellar record in capital cases -- he had sent a dozen people to Virginia's death row -- and Virginia was known for its speedy appeals process.

The decision paid off. Just six years after Muhammad's conviction, he was put to death, having exhausted every legal option. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his final request for a stay Monday, and Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) rejected his clemency request Tuesday.

Ebert, who had never witnessed an execution before Tuesday night, chose to go to Muhammad's.

Rick Conway, one of the Prince William prosecutors who secured the conviction against Muhammad and one of the witnesses to his execution, said it was a "great relief" to see Muhammad die after all the efforts to catch him, try him and punish him.

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