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In the Crossfire

Which jurisdiction will try sniper suspects first?


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Charges against two suspects in the Washington-area sniper shootings have continued to grow as various jurisdictions file charges.

Federal prosecutors Tuesday added to the list of charges facing John Allen Muhammad, 41, in a 20-count criminal complaint. The government is barred from discussing charges against the other suspect, John Lee Malvo, 17, because he is a minor.

Prosecutors in three Virginia counties filed murder and attempted murder charges Monday against Muhammad and Malvo. The two also have been indicted in Montgomery County, Maryland -- where the sniper shootings started October 2 -- and in Montgomery, Alabama, in the shooting death of a woman in a September 21 robbery.

Key issues in the case include which jurisdiction will get to try the two first and how certain a death sentence would be upon conviction. Will these issues negatively influence the eventual trials?

James Gilmore, former Virginia governor and attorney general, and Court TV anchor and former judge Catherine Crier stepped into the "Crossfire" with Robert Novak and Paul Begala to debate the issues.

NOVAK: Gov. Gilmore, I have a little trouble understanding what all of the fuss is about on the state's attorney from Montgomery County, Doug Gansler, filing charges. The federal government is all upset. Let's listen to what Mr. Gansler actually said.

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GANSLER: That doesn't mean we're going first and that doesn't mean we're the only jurisdiction that will prosecute these people. Each and every jurisdiction will have the opportunity to prosecute these two men and to impose what penalty they would like to do. We just want to make sure that we have filed our charges, and everyone we think will do the same following us.

NOVAK: What is wrong with that?

GILMORE: Well, I think that the most important point is that they get together and that they work together to make sure that the cases come in the proper order to the proper trial.

You can file a case in Virginia, [and] you can file in Maryland, but the prosecutors really need to work together to bring the case [to] the best jurisdiction first, otherwise you could influence the other cases.

NOVAK: What is the best jurisdiction?

GILMORE: Well, I think Virginia is the best jurisdiction, and the reason is that Virginia has the death penalty statute that is a legitimate one. It is one that would allow the 17-year-old to in fact potentially face the death penalty.

I've asked for the death penalty myself in situations like that when I was a prosecutor in Virginia, whereas in Maryland, a 17-year-old can't get the death penalty. All we're really saying here is that a jury of their peers ought to have the ability to make a decision about the life or death decision against these people. That ought to be afforded to the jury.

BEGALA: Catherine Crier, why should we care, or is this [an example of] politicians and prosecutors trying to leap for headlines?

CRIER: Well, obviously, there is some leaping for headlines going on here. The only thing I think we really need to worry about is the Feds taking the case first because they would try all of them together, then double jeopardy would apply in every other area.

Alabama possibly would not be included with that, but if one of the states goes first, then each one, each county can obviously go after these guys.

My problem is Virginia has one shooting in one county, one shooting in another, and Montgomery County, the county most hit by this, [has] six killings. [Prosecutors] could go forward with all six in one case.

Also, this has been the source of the initial investigation, so in terms of the effort put into this, you have got most of that occurring in Montgomery County. ... I ask myself, why should we be picking and choosing based upon the death penalty when we ought to look at where the crimes occurred. Go forward on that basis, and if they want to pursue further cases in Virginia or Alabama, they can do so after the fact.

NOVAK: Governor?

GILMORE: Well, first of all, [you are] right about the double jeopardy issue. You have to handle that like a hand grenade, and if the federal people went first, they could potentially block out Virginia and Maryland or anybody else from any potential cases, so that's right.

But it is not right to say that there were just more shootings in Maryland than in Virginia. There were five people injured in Virginia. This isn't the issue.

All of these victims have equal dignity. What is important is to make sure that the best case goes forward at the best location under the best statute because you don't want to try the case in a worse jurisdiction with a worse statute in a worse case, end up with a bad result and then go back to your good jurisdiction and then try to make your case.

CRIER: Let me make something clear here. ... I said Virginia is in a situation where you are going to have one shooting in one county, one shooting in another county, one shooting in another county, versus all six that can be presented to a single jury, assuming you're going forward on the spree theory to that Montgomery County jury.

GILMORE: That's right. You can make a case for trying all the Virginia cases first, as a matter of fact, in three or four jurisdictions and get that resolved.



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