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Charges Elsewhere

More trials hinge on Va. permission

No other states have begun process to get custody of Muhammad, Malvo

By Greg Garland

Sun reporter

May 31, 2006

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John Allen Muhammad's conviction in Montgomery County clears the way for murder trials in other jurisdictions where bullets from the sniper's gun allegedly claimed victims - including Louisiana, Alabama and the District of Columbia.

But officials in Virginia, where Muhammad is expected to return soon to await execution for killing a man in Prince William County, said they see little point in further trials.

It would require the agreement of Virginia's governor to release Muhammad to the custody of another state to stand trial.

Generally, a state that convicts someone has control over the person's movements.

"It is our belief that the Maryland prosecution provides sufficient 'insurance' to guarantee Mr. Muhammad's continued incarceration if, for some reason, the Virginia prosecution is overturned," said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.

"We spoke to prosecutors in each jurisdiction and let them know what we're doing and why. I think everyone recognizes it would be our ultimate decision. Our interest is that he pay for his crime. Juries in two different states now have rendered verdicts and in one has rendered a [death] sentence," Hall said.

Hall said no other states have sought detainer agreements - through which states exchange custody of prisoners - since Virginia agreed a year ago to let Maryland put Muhammad on trial.

If another state makes such a request, he said, it would have to be discussed.

Louisiana crime
John W. Sinquefield, first assistant district attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana, said prosecutors there are weighing their options.

Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, are charged with the September 2002 killing of Hong Im Ballenger in Baton Rouge. She was shot in the head as she left work at the beauty supply house she managed.

"Right now, it's our intention that they would face justice here in Baton Rouge; that decision was made several years ago and will have to be re-evaluated," Sinquefield said.

The prosecutor said he expects to have conversations with officials in Virginia in coming weeks about the pros and cons of trying Muhammad and Malvo in Louisiana.

Among the drawbacks: The cost of the prosecution would be "extreme," he said.

"I may well decide to bring them both down here. ... The practicality of that will have to be reviewed," Sinquefield said.

"They killed a nice Christian lady, shot her down right here on a street in Baton Rouge."

Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia said they have made no decision yet on trying Muhammad and Malvo for a killing there.

Ala., Prince George's
And prosecutors in Alabama did not respond to phone calls on whether they will seek to try Muhammad and Malvo for a killing in that state.

Muhammad is also a suspect in two non-fatal shootings in Prince George's County. Prosecutors there did not respond to a request for comment yesterday on their plans.

Abraham Dash, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law who is not involved in the case, said he would be surprised if any other state seeks to put Muhammad on trial for crimes in its jurisdiction.

"I doubt anyone else will want to go to the expense of trying him," Dash said. "With a death sentence in Virginia and a [likely] life sentence in Maryland, there would be no point."

Dash said that people involved in multistate crime rampages usually are tried only once, especially when the prosecution leads to a guilty verdict and a sentence of death.

"Normally you would not do a second trial when someone has the death sentence," he said.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said Muhammad likely will be returned to Virginia's custody within a few days of his sentencing.

Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert, who prosecuted Muhammad in the Virginia trial, said he is waiting for that to happen.

"The sooner he can come back to Virginia, the happier I'll be," Ebert said.

"I look for him to face execution in the next two to two-and-a-half years."

greg.garland@baltsun.com