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Muhammad has hearing

His next court appearance set for Wednesday

John Allen Muhammad was told Friday that counsel will be appointed for him.
John Allen Muhammad was told Friday that counsel will be appointed for him.

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U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the two sniper suspects accused of killing 10 people in the Washington area will stand trial first in Virginia.
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Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington says ballistics ties a handgun found in Montgomery, Alabama, to a fatal Atlanta robbery.
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• Interactive: The death penalty
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• Story: D.C. area victims

MANASSAS, Virginia (CNN) -- Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad made his first court appearance in Virginia on Friday morning in a brief hearing that included little more than the announcement of the charges against him.

Muhammad has been charged with capital murder, murder while committing an act of terrorism, conspiracy to commit murder and the use of a firearm in an intimidating manner, all relating to the killing of Harold Dean Meyers at a Manassas gas station on October 9.

Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant read the charges and asked Muhammad if he wanted counsel.

"I don't understand, sir," Muhammad replied.

"Then we'll appoint you counsel," the judge said.

"I thought I already had counsel," Muhammad said. "I don't know what to say, sir."

Whisenant, the judge who heard the Lorena Bobbitt case, adjourned the session at that point and ordered the parties to return on Nov. 13, when an attorney would be appointed to represent Muhammad.

Muhammad's alleged associate in the shootings, John Lee Malvo, is scheduled to appear later Friday in a court in Fairfax County, Virginia. Malvo is charged with two counts of capital murder, including committing an act of terrorism, and a third count of using a firearm to commit murder in the killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, who was gunned down October 14 outside a Home Depot in Falls Church.

Muhammad and Malvo, now linked to a fatal shooting in Georgia, were transferred Thursday to Virginia, where they will be tried separately for killings linked to the sniper attacks that terrorized the area around the nation's capitol.

"We believe that the first prosecutions should occur in those jurisdictions that provide the best law, the best facts and the best range of available penalties," said Attorney General John Ashcroft, in explaining why Virginia will get the first chance to prosecution the two.

Muhammad and Malvo are accused of killing 12 people and wounding five others between September 14 and October 24 in Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state and the District of Columbia.

Ashcroft said those victims paid the ultimate price and "it is imperative that the ultimate sanction be available for those who have committed these crimes."

Malvo is expected to be tried as an adult and prosecutors are expected to seek the death penalty in both cases.

"The death penalty's reserved for the worst of the worst. And I think from the evidence that all of you are aware of over the last month or so these folks qualify," said Commonwealth Attorney Paul Ebert of Prince William County.

Virginia law allows the death penalty for the killing of more than one person within three years.

Commonwealth Attorney Robert Horan of Fairfax County said to allow that penalty his office would use evidence from other killings without invoking double jeopardy.

"We can use evidence of homicides committed in other jurisdictions, because under the Virginia statute we aren't trying those other crimes, we're using those other crimes to elevate our crime into the capital murder section," Horan said.

Federal charges against Malvo and Muhammad were dropped Thursday by the U.S. District Court in Maryland, and they were transferred from federal custody in Baltimore to the high security city jail in Alexandria, Virginia, where terrorist suspect Zacarias Moussaoui also is housed.

New case linked to sniper suspects

Million Woldemarian

In Georgia, police said ballistic tests have linked the two to the shooting death of Million Woldemarian, a 41-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, at Sammy's liquor store in southwest Atlanta on September 20.

The Atlanta shooting fits into the sequence that has Muhammad and Malvo linked with a nonfatal shooting in Silver Spring, Maryland, on September 14; a fatal shooting in Montgomery, Alabama, on September 21; and another fatal shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on September 23.

Those shootings all took place before October 2, when a shooting spree began in Montgomery County, Maryland, that sparked authorities from the East Coast to the West Coast to re-examine unsolved cases looking for links to the D.C.-area sniper shootings.

Montgomery, Alabama, police charged Muhammad and Malvo with the killing of Claudine Parker in a liquor store holdup. Ballistics tests linked the shooting with the Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle found with the pair when they were arrested October 24.

It was a .22-caliber handgun recovered near the scene of the Alabama shooting that made the Atlanta police look at their unsolved case. Ballistic tests matched bullets from that gun to bullets recovered from the Atlanta victim.

"It appears as though they stopped in Atlanta, coming from the north. The shooting occurred about 12:15 a.m. on the 21st, and then eight hours later another shooting occurred in Montgomery, Alabama," said Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington.

Pennington said the Atlanta victim was shot three times with the .22-caliber pistol that federal authorities said was stolen earlier in Texas.

Virginia second only to Texas in executions

Sniper suspect John Lee Malvo arrives Thursday at  Fairfax County Adult Detention Center in Fairfax, Virginia, under heavy police escort.
Sniper suspect John Lee Malvo arrives Thursday at Fairfax County Adult Detention Center in Fairfax, Virginia, under heavy police escort.

After Muhammad and Malvo were arrested last month, the wrangling began between jurisdictions vying for the right to put the suspects on trial first.

Alabama police filed the first charges. Maryland authorities thought they should be first in line because more of the shootings took place there. Virginia prosecutors argued their state offered the best chance that both would be sentenced to death if convicted.

The District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction that has not yet filed charges.

In Virginia, unlike in Maryland, a 17-year-old would be eligible for the death penalty. Virginia has executed 86 people since 1982, a total second only to Texas.

Authorities are also looking at other shootings in Arizona, Washington state and Maryland to determine whether the sniper suspects may have been responsible.

Law enforcement sources told CNN that a Sony laptop computer found in the suspects' vehicle was stolen during a September 5 robbery-shooting in Maryland of a pizzeria owner, who survived despite being shot six times while getting in his car.

CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena contributed to this report.

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