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Muhammad jury finishes Friday without a verdict

Muhammad, far left, stands with his defense team Friday as the court is adjourned.
Muhammad, far left, stands with his defense team Friday as the court is adjourned.

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) -- Jurors in the trial of John Allen Muhammad failed to reach a verdict Friday after deliberating for four hours on whether Muhammad was the mastermind behind the deadly sniper spree that terrorized the Washington, D.C. area last fall.

Judge LeRoy Millette Jr. released the seven-woman, five-man jury at 1 p.m. EST. Deliberations are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. EST Monday.

Three hours into deliberations the jury requested a tape recorder to listen to audio testimony.

Millette granted the request, despite defense lawyers' concerns that it might lead the jury to focus disproportionate attention on the tapes.

With no direct evidence that Muhammad ever fired a shot in last fall's sniper spree, jurors face a critical question: Was Muhammad the mastermind who holds ultimate responsibility?

During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Richard Conway told jurors that Muhammad was the captain of a "killing team." Conway contended that there was "compelling physical evidence" of Muhammad's role in the 2002 killing spree in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., that left 10 dead and three wounded.

Although 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, Muhammad's alleged accomplice, may have pulled the trigger, Muhammad shares equal responsibility, Conway said.

Muhammad, 42, faces charges of murder, terrorism, conspiracy and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. The murder and terrorism charges could carry the death penalty.

He is charged with capital murder in the October 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers outside a Manassas gas station. He is eligible for the death penalty if the jury decides the prosecution proved Muhammad was responsible for at least two murders within three years.

Muhammad and Malvo are the first suspects to be charged under Virginia's terrorism law, passed after the September 11, 2001, attacks. The law makes a murder defendant eligible for the death penalty if prosecutors prove he committed a murder that was intended to intimidate the public or influence the government.

Opening statements in Malvo's trial were held Thursday in neighboring Chesapeake. Malvo is on trial in the October 14, 2002, shooting death of Linda Franklin at a store parking lot in Falls Church. Malvo has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. (Full story)

The Muhammad trial jurors have some of the evidence Malvo's prosecutors will use, but Malvo's trial will resume Monday, with or without it. Accommodations will be made if the evidence is not available, such as showing jurors photos of the Bushmaster rifle allegedly used in the sniper killings, instead of the actual rifle.

Conway likened Muhammad's role to an arson case in which two people enter a house, one pours gasoline "and his buddy comes in and lights the match and starts the fire."

Millette ruled Wednesday that Muhammad could be found guilty of murder even if his alleged accomplice was the triggerman. Under Virginia law, a principal in the first degree or immediate perpetrator could be found guilty of murder, Millette said.

Muhammad's attorneys have said there is no evidence he was responsible for the sniper shootings.

Conway said Muhammad altered his 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. He said Muhammad put dark tint on the windows, "sawed out" the fire wall between the rear seat and the trunk and spray-painted the inside lid of the trunk so it would not reflect light.

Defense attorney Peter Greenspun argued there was no evidence that Muhammad and Malvo acted as a team.

He expressed sympathies for the families of the sniper victims but urged jurors to put out of their minds the graphic photographs of the victims the prosecution had shown.

"The law requires you to keep an open mind," Greenspun said. "How can you keep an open mind looking at those pictures?"

The defense presented five witnesses during the trial.

Greenspun also said it was up to the jury to decide the definition of "immediate perpetrator" and "principal in the first degree." He said the terms should only apply to "that person who has the immediate ability to stop this from happening."


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