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Baton Rouge victim's husband opposes death penalty

'I forgive them for what they did'

James Ballenger
James Ballenger

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CNN's Paula Zahn interviews Jim Ballenger, husband of the woman who was killed in Louisiana and who might have been a D.C.-area sniper victim.
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Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police charge John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo with robbery and murder in the death of a shopkeeper.
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Investigators are working to decide who should receive the $500,000 reward for the information that led to the sniper suspects' capture. CNN's Patty Davis reports.
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• Interactive: The death penalty
• Interactive: Police close in
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• Story: D.C. area victims

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (CNN) -- Citing his strong Christian beliefs, the husband of a woman gunned down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, says he is against the death penalty if the sniper suspects now linked to his wife's killing are convicted.

James Ballenger, in an interview on CNN's "American Morning," said John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, (aka Lee Boyd Malvo) "should live in prison for the rest of their lives and think about what they did" and receive Christian counseling for killing his wife, whom he calls an "angel."

Authorities in Louisiana linked the suspects' rifle to the September 23 killing and charged them with first-degree murder -- the fourth state to file charges against the two accused of being the Washington-area snipers. They face capital murder charges in all four states and many authorities say they are eligible for execution. (Full story)

The U.S. Department of Justice has also filed charges against Muhammad.

But Ballenger said he understands their predicament through his religious fervor. He said he is "praying for them" and hopes they accept "Jesus as the Lord and savior through all this."

"I forgive them for what they did. I hate the crime they did," said Ballenger, who asserted that he has no "bitterness" about what happened. "I'm just upset because I don't have my wife with me."

'Hell for all eternity'

Hong Ballenger, 45, a Korean native and mother of three, was shot in the back of the head with a single bullet while she was getting into her car, shortly after closing up her beauty supply shop around 6:40 p.m. Her purse was also stolen.

James Ballenger saw pictures of the sniper suspects last week, and he told local police that Malvo resembled a description of a suspect in his wife's killing.

Police initially told Ballenger his wife's murder "didn't fit the same M.O." (modus operandi), "because she was robbed." But eventually police, including the FBI, took a further look at the murder, especially since Muhammad and Malvo had been in Baton Rouge over the summer.

Ballenger said the two "didn't know what they were doing." He said they "just needed money" and "were too lazy to work for it." They committed a cowardly act by shooting "my wife in the back of the head."

He said, "It's better to take the punishment here on Earth than stand in front of God and go to hell for all eternity." He said he has peace of mind about his wife in the afterlife, and he described her as a devout, moral and altruistic woman who spent a lot of time at church and in Bible study.

"That's why I know she's in heaven. She's a good Christian woman," Ballenger said.

Hong Ballenger
Hong Ballenger

Ballenger recounted how he learned about his wife's death. He was called and told his wife was in an accident. Ballenger, accompanied by his 10-year-old son, went to the scene, thinking it was a traffic accident.

"I thought I was going to have to translate from Korean to English for her because I felt she got nervous from a car accident."

Police then told him his wife was killed.

"They had me cross the street with my son in the truck and I told him to wait there and tried to get friends from church to take my son home with them.

"They didn't hurry fast enough. He went across the street and heard the people talking in the crowd and said to me, 'Daddy, Mommy was shot and killed.' "

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