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Jurors deliberate Muhammad's sentence

Prosecutors want death penalty; defense asks for mercy


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Prosecutors rest their death-penalty case against John Allen Muhammad.
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CNN/Time POLL
Should John Allen Muhammad be sentenced to death?

Yes        56%
No         38%

Interviews with 1,505 adult Americans conducted by telephone November 18-19, 2003

Sampling error: +/-3 percentage points

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) -- Jurors will start deciding Friday morning whether John Allen Muhammad will receive the death penalty for his role in last fall's sniper killings in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors asked a jury Thursday to sentence Muhammad to death after defense lawyers tried to humanize him by showing his home movies.

Assistant prosecutor James Willett said the friendly, smiling Muhammad jurors saw in the movies "is already dead."

Prosecutor Paul Ebert said life means little to Muhammad.

"The death penalty is preserved for the worst of the worse," he said, pointing at Muhammad. "That man is the worst of the worse. He knows it, and he knows I know it."

Muhammad's defense pleaded with jurors to spare his life.

"I'm scared to death," attorney Jonathan Shapiro said. "I feel the full weight of this man's life in my hands and I [know] you feel the same way.

On Monday, the same jury convicted Muhammad, 42, of capital murder, murder committed during an act of terrorism, conspiracy, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the October 9, 2002, killing of Dean Harold Meyers outside a Manassas, Virginia, gas station.

Meyers was one of 10 people killed in the October 2002 sniper killings. Three people were wounded but survived the attacks.

Prosecutors argued that Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo acted as a team, with Malvo as the trigger man in most of the shootings.

Malvo, 18, is on trial in nearby Chesapeake for the October 14, 2002, slaying of Linda Franklin in the parking lot of a Fairfax Home Depot.

Malvo pleaded not guilty. His lawyers argued that he was brainwashed by Muhammad.

Sister, ex-girlfriend testify

In the final day in the sentencing phase of Muhammad's trial Thursday, his lawyers played a 15-minute videotape for the jury showing Muhammad bathing his toddler son, John Jr., teaching the boy to bowl and teaching one of his two daughters to walk.

The final defense witness was Sgt. Amanda Lambert, a Prince William County jail guard who testified that Muhammad adjusted well to life in custody.

Under cross-examination, Ebert asked why she always had company when she went to Muhammad's cell to conduct periodic interviews.

Lambert said jail policy required her to be escorted into the cell, but she said she "would be scared" to go alone.

"He's emotionless. I can't read him," Lambert said. "I don't know what's going on with him."

Muhammad's former girlfriend, Mary Marez, testified that he was a generous, considerate man.

"I feel that his life will always have value," Marez said. "He's a person who has so much to give."

And Muhammad's sister, Aurolyn Williams, described their mother's death from breast cancer while Muhammad was a toddler.

Williams said she knew their mother was in constant pain, "because she'd lay down and cry and moan." Muhammad, she said, "was like a cat that just had a kitten. My mom [would] move a step, John would move."

Malvo trial

About 15 miles away, jurors in the Malvo trial Thursday examined Muhammad's blue Chevrolet Caprice that police said was modified to allow a gunman to fire from the trunk without being seen.

They also heard testimony from a guard at the Maryland prison where Malvo was held before trial. Joseph Stracke testified Malvo admitted to pulling the trigger in at least 14 shootings across the country.

The guard, who said he had numerous conversations with Malvo over a period of five days, said that in the case of Franklin's death there is "no doubt in my mind, he blew her head off."

Stracke also testified that Malvo said the youngest victim, 14-year-old Iran Brown, was shot to upset Montgomery County, Maryland Police Chief Charles Moose. Brown survived the shooting and testified in Malvo's trial earlier Thursday.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Mark Petrovich suggested Malvo's statements could have been a form of bragging.

But Stracke disputed that, saying Malvo seemed "proud."

Experts from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified they found Malvo's fingerprints on the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle found in the trunk of Muhammad's car and on a map and snack food bag found at two of the shootings. Investigators say the rifle was used in each of the sniper attacks.

CNN's Mike M. Ahlers and Laura Bernardini contributed to this report.


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