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Jury recommends death for Muhammad


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Jurors recommend the death penalty for John Allen Muhammad.
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Jury foreman Jerry Haggerty answers questions about the jury's decision.
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Bob Meyers, brother of sniper victim Dean Harold Meyers, reacts to decision.
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Prosecutor Paul Ebert comments on the jury's decision.
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VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) -- Jurors recommended Monday that John Allen Muhammad be sentenced to death for orchestrating last year's sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area and outlying communities in Maryland and Virginia.

The seven-woman, five-man panel recommended death for two of the four counts Muhammad was convicted of last week in last year's shooting death of Dean Harold Meyers: terrorism and capital murder.

Muhammad also received a 10-year sentence recommendation for conspiracy and a three-year sentence recommendation for use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Muhammad showed no sign of emotion as the decisions were read aloud Monday morning, less than two hours after jurors reconvened for a second day of deliberations. They had deliberated for about four hours Friday.

Judge LeRoy Millette set a formal sentencing date of February 12. Under Virginia law, Millette has the final word and can reduce the jury's recommended sentence, but it is rare for a judge to do so. The Virginia Supreme Court would automatically review death sentence.

Last week the same jury convicted the 42-year-old Muhammad of the October 9, 2002, killing of Meyers outside a Manassas, Virginia, service station. Meyers was one of 10 people killed in the October 2002 sniper killings. Three people were wounded but survived the attacks.

After the verdict, prosecutor Paul Ebert endorsed the jury's recommendation.

"The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst, and we think Mr. Muhammad fell into that category," Ebert said.

Muhammad defense attorney Peter Greenspun said he was "bitterly disappointed" with the verdict.

"The law in Virginia allows death in these circumstances. We don't see any good that can come of that. The sanction of another death by the government is not likely to benefit anyone," he said.

But both Greenspun and co-counsel Jonathan Shapiro said jurors did their best under the law.

Muhammad became the first person ever charged and sentenced under Virginia's new post-September 11, 2001, terrorism law, outlawing attempts to intimidate the civilian population at large, or to influence the conduct or activities of the government of the United States, a state or locality through intimidation.

Juror: 'Lack of remorse' influenced decision

The decision capped a six-week trial that began with Muhammad attempting to represent himself. He abandoned that attempt after two days of proceedings.

Prosecutors argued that Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo -- Muhammad's alleged accomplice currently on trial in nearby Chesapeake -- acted as a team, with Malvo as the triggerman in most of last year's sniper shootings. Millette can reduce the recommended sentence but not increase it.

Malvo is accused of killing FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a store in Fairfax County on October 14, 2002. (More on that trial)

After the verdict, jurors suggested that Muhammad's behavior during the trial might have influenced their decision.

Juror Dennis Bowman said he originally favored a sentence of life in prison without parole. But after a sleepless Sunday night, Bowman said he decided that Muhammad would kill again "sooner or later."

"The total lack of remorse seemed to cap it off for us," he said, in addition to "the possibility -- no, probability -- that down the road there will be more casualties from this man."

Another juror, Robert Elliott, said he tried to watch Muhammad's demeanor the entire time.

"Personally, I looked for something in him that might have shown remorse or anything along those lines, and I just never saw it the whole time," Elliott said.

Prosecutors argued for death

Prosecutors argued that Muhammad qualified for the death penalty because he posed a continuing threat to society and his conduct -- actions they said could be considered vile, horrible or inhuman -- reflected "depravity of mind."

"One thing's for sure, they took pleasure in terrorizing people," Ebert said. "They took pleasure in killing people. That's the kind of man that doesn't need to be in society."

To bolster the prosecution's case, Muhammad's ex-wife testified that Muhammad threatened to "destroy" her after their marriage collapsed in 1999, and an inmate at the Virginia jail where Muhammad was held to await trial described what prosecutors considered an escape attempt earlier this year.

start quoteThe death penalty is reserved of the worst of the worst, and we think Mr. Muhammad fell into that category.end quote
-- Paul Ebert, prosecutor

No testimony indicated that Muhammad pulled the trigger in the sniper killings, but prosecutors argued that Muhammad and Malvo acted as a team in the attacks.

Other testimony linked Muhammad to killings in Alabama, Louisiana and Washington state.

In an effort to spare their client's life, attorneys Greenspun and Shapiro played a 15-minute videotape for the jury last week showing Muhammad bathing his toddler son, John Jr., teaching the boy to bowl and teaching one of his two daughters to walk. And 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."

Bob Meyers, brother of sniper victim Dean Harold Meyers, said Monday he did not "revel" in the verdict but called it "right and proper."

"It takes a great leap of faith to think that justice wasn't served today," Meyers said.

Virginia has executed 89 convicts since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Condemned prisoners in Virginia have the choice of dying by lethal injection or in the electric chair.


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