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Muhammad faces 20 federal counts

Suspect could face death penalty; Malvo not charged

muhammad
Sketches of John Allen Muhammad in court Tuesday in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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Federal criminal complaint: U.S. v. Muhammad  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
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GREENBELT, Maryland (CNN) -- John Allen Muhammad appeared in federal district court Tuesday afternoon on a 20-count complaint filed earlier in the day charging him as the killer in seven of the Washington-area sniper shootings.

An affidavit filed in support of the complaint says Muhammad, 41, gave his alleged teenage accomplice the nickname "Sniper" in the months before the killings began. Ten people were killed and three wounded in the three-week spree that began October 2. (Full story)

Neither the complaint nor the affidavit names Muhammad's alleged accomplice, John Lee Malvo, 17, because he is a juvenile. Records show he will be 18 in February.

Federal officials said the United States would be able to seek the death penalty against Muhammad under a federal law that makes it a capital crime to use a gun during a criminal act that causes someone's death.

"It's important that we have available the most serious penalties in a setting like this," said Attorney General John Ashcroft in announcing the charges. "I believe that the ultimate sanction ought to be available here."

Other federal charges against Muhammad include:

•Conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States.

•Interstate transportation in the aid of racketeering.

•Firing a weapon in a school zone.

•Conspiracy to affect interstate commerce by extortion and threats of physical violence.

•Affecting interstate commerce by extortion and threats of physical violence.

Following Muhammad's preliminary hearing before U.S. Magistrate Charles Day, public defender Jim Wyda urged the public "to respect" the judicial process, saying "at this point we still have not heard any evidence in a court of law against Mr. Muhammad."

"He has never been convicted of another crime at any time, anywhere," Wyda told reporters outside federal district court here. Muhammad first appeared in federal court last week after his arrest on an unrelated firearms charge.

Wyda said a detention hearing was set for next Tuesday. An arraignment will follow at which a court date will be set.

The complaint names seven killings -- the six in Montgomery County, Maryland, and the one in the District of Columbia -- for which Muhammad could be executed upon conviction. The Virginia shootings were not included in the federal filing because not all the local jurisdictions have filed charges.

The affidavit, filed and signed by agents of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, details the key points of the investigation.

The affidavit says each shot was taken from a distance and several were close to highway exit ramps. According to the affidavit, authorities test-fired a Bushmaster rifle found in the suspects' car and the bullet matched ballistics tests on all but two of the 13 shooting victims.

Inside the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, authorities found a global positioning system unit, a Sony laptop computer, a pair of two-way radios, a .223-caliber bullet, a Bushmaster rifle and a cotton glove similar to one found at a shooting scene, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit cites a Muhammad associate in Tacoma, Washington, as the source of the nickname reference. Both suspects lived in Tacoma for awhile. The affidavit does not mention Malvo by name but refers to him as "John Doe, juvenile."

The writing on a note found with a Tarot card in the middle school shooting in Bowie, Maryland, and near the October 19 shooting at a Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland, Virginia, "were probably written by one and the same person," the affidavit says.

The note found in Ashland demanded $10 million to be paid into a Visa platinum account from a credit card stolen in Arizona in March, the affidavit says. That evidence was the basis of the extortion charges.

Jurisdiction questions

Key issues in the case include which jurisdiction will get to try the two men first and how certain a death sentence would be upon conviction. Virginia has been more aggressive than Maryland in pursuing the death penalty for the two, and Maryland law forbids execution of minors.

Prosecutors in three Virginia counties filed murder and attempted murder charges Monday against Muhammad and Malvo. (Charges by jurisdiction)

Sniper suspects John Lee Malvo, left, and John Allen Muhammad
Sniper suspects John Lee Malvo, left, and John Allen Muhammad

The two suspects were indicted Friday in Montgomery County. They also were charged in Montgomery, Alabama, for the shooting death of a woman during a September 21 liquor store robbery. (The Alabama connection)

Police in Washington state have named Muhammad and Malvo as suspects in a Tacoma killing earlier this year and said a weapon that may have been used by one of the men was involved in the vandalism of a local synagogue. (Full story)

Sources said the federal charges would not have any bearing on which jurisdiction would be the first to try the suspects.

CNN's Kelli Arena and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.



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