Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Va. judge refuses to void Muhammad conviction


MANASSAS, Va. -- Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad lost a bid yesterday to have his capital murder convictions erased.

In refusing to acquit Muhammad or grant him a new trial, Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. said that by its nature, circumstantial evidence "puts together a picture" to prove guilt, and in this case, prosecutors had "overwhelming evidence."

Muhammad, 43, was convicted in November of masterminding the Washington-area sniper shootings that killed 10 and injured three over three weeks in October 2002.

The jury sentenced him to die, but Millette can lessen that to life in prison when imposing the sentence next month.

At the request of prosecutors, the judge moved up Muhammad's sentencing one day -- to March 9 -- because it was to take place the same day as that of Muhammad's accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo.

Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said that victims' families, some from out of town, want to attend both Muhammad's sentencing in Manassas and that of Malvo, 19.

Malvo is scheduled to have a sentence of life without parole imposed March 10.

The sniper attacks laid siege to the nation's capital and surrounding areas. Officials closed schools and canceled events; people zig-zagged quickly through parking lots and stayed home to avoid becoming the next victim.

Yesterday's 4 1/2 -hour hearing was what prosecutors called the "last cowardly gasps" of efforts to save Muhammad.

Defense attorneys Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro lost their flurry of motions asking Millette to rule that Muhammad's trial was unfair for several reasons.

Among them, they contended that prosecutors' failure to give them letters Malvo wrote to another inmate shortly before the trials last fall -- which Fairfax County prosecutors used to show that Malvo was dangerous -- would have helped them tell jurors that Malvo was capable of thinking on his own and not controlled by Muhammad.

They argued that Muhammad endured an abusive childhood and had brain abnormalities, issues they could not raise because Muhammad refused evaluations by prosecutors' mental experts.

The arguments, which include defense assertions that there was no direct proof that Muhammad fired the Bushmaster .223 rifle prosecutors have tied to the shootings, are likely to continue on appeal.

Juries in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, where the trials were moved to avoid jurors who were directly affected by the sniper shootings, heard that Muhammad and Malvo committed the crimes in a plot to extort $10 million from the government.

Muhammad was convicted of the fatal shooting Oct. 9, 2002, of Gaithersburg engineer Dean Harold Meyers as he pumped gasoline at a filling station outside Manassas.

Malvo was convicted of the slaying Oct. 14 of FBI analyst Linda Franklin of Arlington in the parking lot of a Home Depot near Falls Church.

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