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After deliberating for less than seven hours, jurors in Virginia Beach, Va., found John Allen Muhammad guilty of capital murder in the first of two trials over D.C. sniper killings.
John Allen Muhammad
The jury concluded Muhammad used a rifle, a beat-up car and a teen-ager who idolized him to kill randomly and to terrorize the Washington area last fall.
The 42-year-old Army veteran and his 18-year-old companion, Lee Boyd Malvo, each were accused of two capital murder counts – one alleging they killed more than one person in a three-year period and the other, filed under a post-9-11 anti-terrorism law, that alleged they terrorized the Washington, D.C. area in the fall of 2002.
Muhammad is the first person tried under that new law.
Police have linked the two men to 19 shootings, which resulted in 13 deaths in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
The pair also were charged with extortion in regards to their solicitation of $10 million from the government.
Jurors found Muhammad guilty on all four counts, including the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas, Va., gas station, conspiracy and use of a firearm to commit a felony.
The sentencing phase of the trial began this afternoon and could take up to three days. Muhammad faces life in prison or the death penalty.
At a press conference following the verdict, family members of the victims expressed gratitude, and some called for Muhammad to receive a death sentence, including Dean Harold Meyers’ brother.
“I must say that I can’t think of too many more heinous crimes than this one,” he told reporters.
“This is a huge step in the pursuit of closure, but as I’ve said before, I would really doubt that full closure ever comes because there’s always an open wound remaining,” he added.
Larry Meyers Jr., the victim’s nephew, told the Fox News Channel he would leave the sentencing decision up to the jury.
“God put government in there to do that job and we have the confidence in them to do it. We’re not pro-death penalty but we’re not against it, either. Whatever the verdict is, we’re going to be pretty happy with it, I’m sure,” he said.
Jurors will only hear testimony from members of the Meyers family in determining the sentence.
John Lee Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo
Muhammad and Malvo were arrested Oct. 24, 2002, at a rest stop near Myersville, Md., about 45 miles northwest of the nation’s capital. They were found asleep inside the blue 1990 Chevy Caprice outfitted as a killing machine, with a hole in the car’s trunk to allow someone to shoot from it.
A Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, a scope and a tripod were recovered from Muhammad’s car. Ballistics matched the rifle to that used in the 13 sniper shootings. Prosecutors revealed Malvo’s fingerprints were on the rifle.
Both Muhammad and Malvo were known to speak sympathetically about the men who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, but neither man was believed to be directly associated with any terrorists groups.
Muhammad is a member of Louis Farrakhan’s Muslim sect, the Nation of Islam, known for its belief that blacks eventually will rule in a new world free from the “white devils” created by an evil black scientist. The former John Allen Williams officially changed his surname to Muhammad on April 23, 2001.
Meanwhile, testimony is under way in Malvo’s trial in nearby Chesapeake, Va. He is charged in the Oct. 14, 2002, slaying of Linda Franklin outside a Home Depot store.
Malvo’s lawyers maintain he is innocent by reason of insanity because he was brainwashed by Muhammad, whom he looked up to as father figure. During opening arguments Thursday, lawyers showed jurors a photograph of Malvo holding a Bible, and painted the picture of a young man who is a victim of his unhappy upbringing in Jamaica.
Prosecutors will present what they describe as overwhelming evidence against Malvo, including DNA and fingerprint evidence and a confession to police in which he allegedly bragged about the shootings, including the fatal shooting of Franklin.
John Malvo and John Muhammad
WorldNetDaily reported Malvo appeared to be a reluctant Muslim, slowly “pulled into the evil” that Muhammad planned, according to the chaplain of a homeless shelter in Washington state near the Canadian border where the two men stayed in the fall of 2001.
“My deepest sympathies for the boy,” said Ron Todd, a pastor at Lighthouse Mission. “But if he reached the point where, either out of fear or the thrill of the moment, he not only put his fingerprints on a clip but actually pulled the trigger, then he deserves the same that Muhammad is getting.”
Muhammad met Malvo on the Caribbean island of Antigua, where he had fled after abducting his three children from his ex-wife, Mildred Muhammad, March 27, 2000.
Malvo’s mother, Una James, was a customer of Muhammad’s business trafficking false passports and immigration visas, according to the Seattle Times. James used the false papers to enter Florida, intending to retrieve Malvo after she got settled.
In the meantime, the teen, left by himself, gravitated to Muhammad. Despite James’ subsequent efforts to take back her son, with the help of police, Malvo stayed with Muhammad until the two were caught.