Squabbles over where sniper suspects will be tried

A growing number of officials said the state of Maryland should defer prosecution of the two sniper suspects to another jurisdiction where the death penalty could be more easily applied.

A Justice Department official suggested on Sunday that Maryland should not be the first to try the case, and the top elected official in Maryland’s Montgomery County, where six were slain, urged prosecutors to work together to choose the strongest venue.

Federal officials and those from the states of Maryland, Virginia and Alabama are trying to decide where John Allen Muhammad (41) and John Lee Malvo (17) should be tried first for the string of sniper shootings that left 10 dead and three wounded from October 2 to their arrest last Thursday.

“They need to present a unified front to the public and say: ‘Here’s how we’re going to handle this,’ and wherever the case is strongest with the stiffest penalties, that’s where they need to go,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.

The two were to be charged on Monday in Virginia, where three of the killings took place. The suspects already face multiple murder charges in Maryland, and murder charges in Alabama unrelated to the sniper shootings. They also could be charged with federal extortion and murder counts that could bring the death penalty.

Maryland “comes in dead last” in terms of the strength of its law on the death penalty, said a Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A 17-year-old would be eligible for the death penalty in Virginia and Alabama but not in Maryland.
James Wyda, a court-appointed lawyer for Muhammad, said on Sunday his client was not cooperating with investigators. Malvo’s attorney could not be reached.

Meanwhile, the New York Times and the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the lead prosecutor in Fairfax County, Virginia, where one victim was killed, suggested there is evidence that Malvo was the shooter.

The prosecutor, Commonwealth attorney Robert Horan, Jr., dismissed those reports.

“What I said is that there’s an equal possibility” for both suspects to have been the shooter, said Horan.

Montgomery County prosecutor Douglas Gansler said his office believes both men fired shots during the spree. ? Sapa-AP

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