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Sniper death ruling stands
Virginia Supreme Court affirms death penalty for sniper John Allen Muhammad.

Date published: 4/23/2005

By Pamela Gould

State justices deny Muhammad appeals

RICHMOND--The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed yesterday the capital murder convictions and death penalty for sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad.

"If society's ultimate penalty should be reserved for the most heinous offenses, accompanied by proof of vileness or future dangerousness, then surely this case qualifies," Justice Donald Lemons wrote.

Muhammad was convicted of two counts of capital murder for the shooting of Dean Harold Meyers in Prince William County, one of 10 sniper killings that terrorized the Washington region during a three-week period in October 2002. Two of the sniper shootings occurred in Spotsylvania County.

Yesterday, at a news conference inside the Manassas Courthouse, Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert said he was relieved by the Supreme Court's ruling and thanked the lawyers in the Attorney General's Office who handled the appeal.

"This, I think, is a major hurdle," said Ebert, who prosecuted Muhammad.

Ebert said he believes this was the first time a state anti-terrorism law had been tested and he felt this case fit the statute "almost perfectly."

Lawyers for Muhammad argued on appeal that Muhammad could not be sentenced to die under state law because he was not the triggerman in the shooting spree. They also claimed that a new anti-terrorism law that was the basis for one of the capital murder counts is unconstitutionally vague.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the conviction based on the anti-terrorism law but split 4-3 in affirming the conviction under the triggerman rule.

Ebert said the majority of justices interpreted the facts as he and his prosecution team had.

"We felt all along they were a killing team and equally responsible," Ebert said.

Peter D. Greenspun, a lawyer for Muhammad, said he and co-counsel Jonathan Shapiro were "extremely disappointed" and were considering their options.

"There is a significant dissent, so we are going to review the entirety of the decision and continue to do everything we can to protect John Muhammad's interests and save his life," he said.

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