John Allen Muhammad, D.C. sniper, loses Supreme Court appeal

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to block John Allen Muhammad's execution, scheduled for Tuesday in a Virginia prison.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    John Allen Muhammad.
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Convicted D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad has lost his last appeal, opening the way for his scheduled execution in a Virginia prison on Tuesday.

Mr. Muhammad and his 17-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, terrorized the Washington region in September and October 2002 as they engaged in a series of apparently random sniper attacks.

In all, 16 individuals were shot. Ten died.

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Muhammad was tried and convicted in Prince William County, Va., for capital murder in an act of terrorism and for engaging in at least two murders within three years. The case focused primarily on the Oct. 9, 2002, killing of Dean Meyers. Mr. Meyers was shot in the head while refueling his car at a Sunoco gas station in Manassas, Va.

He was the 12th victim in the shooting spree. Shortly after the attack, police interviewed Muhammad in a parking lot across the street from the Sunoco station, according to court documents. They had no idea he was the shooter. He wouldn't be arrested for another two weeks.

Mr. Malvo was tried separately. He was convicted and is serving a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Muhammad's lawyers filed their appeal with the high court last week. It marked the third time his case was presented to the US Supreme Court, and the third time it was rejected.

The court did not explain why it would not hear the case. But three justices – John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor – said they were concerned about the rapid pace of the Muhammad case. Rules in Virginia allow for capital cases to move through the state system faster than the time frame set out under federal law.

Justice Stevens said he would favor granting an automatic stay of execution in every death-penalty case before the high court to allow careful consideration of the issues. But Stevens wrote that having reviewed Muhammad's claims, he would not dissent from the court's decision to not hear the appeal.

Muhammad still has a request for clemency pending with Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.

The shooting spree that captivated Washington and much of the nation began on Sept. 5 with an apparent robbery. Paul LaRuffa was shot outside his restaurant in Clinton, Md. A witness said he saw a "kid" run up to the car, fire shots into it, open the back door, and take out a computer and briefcase with $3,500 in cash and credit-card receipts.

Four days later, Muhammad purchased a 1990 Caprice in Trenton, N.J. Before he bought the car, Muhammad got into the trunk and lay down, according to trial testimony. Investigators later discovered that Muhammad cut a hole in the trunk to create a concealed shooting position.

Investigators have also linked Muhammad and Malvo to shootings in Montgomery, Ala., and Baton Rouge, La., in addition to the shootings in Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and Virginia.

Malvo and Muhammad were arrested Oct. 24, 2002, at a rest area in Frederick, Md. They were sleeping in the car.

Inside the Caprice, investigators found a .223 Bushmaster rifle that was later linked through ballistics tests to many of the shootings. They also found a computer belonging to Mr. LaRuffa, the first shooting victim. On it was a mapping software program allegedly downloaded by Muhammad that showed some of the shooting locations. A few were marked with a skull and crossbones icon.

In his filing at the Supreme Court, Muhammad's lawyer, Jonathan Sheldon, said his client was suffering from severe mental illness. He said Muhammad believed he was a prophet and that Malvo had discovered an herbal remedy that could cure AIDS.

Muhammad made strange statements to his lawyers during the trial. The brief quotes Muhammad as saying: "Things I thought would help were turned against me.... I might be on another planet. I don't understand the gravitational pull."

According to his lawyers, "although Muhammad could appear coherent and logical for a few minutes, his thinking and behavior soon deteriorated, and he often became loose, rambling, illogical, and inappropriate."

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