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Sniper's siblings describe violent upbringing

Sister of John Muhammad: 'We were raised like animals'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Three siblings of convicted sniper John Muhammad said he was regularly and severely beaten as a child by several relatives, including an uncle who beat another child to death at a Louisiana reform school.

"Our life was pure hell," said Aurolyn Marie Williams, one of Muhammad's sisters. "We just got beat. I wouldn't wish the life I had ... on my worst enemy." She said all six Williams children were beaten with electrical cords, switches, hose pipe and by hands.

"We didn't know anything but beatings," said Bessie Williams, Muhammad's oldest sibling. "We were raised like animals."

Lawyers for Muhammad, 42, submitted the statements along with numerous motions Monday as they asked a Virginia judge to overturn Muhammad's conviction and death sentence for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers.

Thirteen people were shot during the October 2002 sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington area and outlying communities in Maryland and Virginia. Ten of the sniper victims died.

In November, a Virginia Beach, Virginia, jury convicted Muhammad of two capital offenses related to one of the Washington-area sniper shootings. The same jury sentenced him to death.

A Virginia judge is scheduled March 10 to rule on that sentence. He has the power to reduce the sentence to life in prison, although such reductions of jury-imposed sentences are rare.

John Allen Muhammad
Lee Boyd Malvo
Crime, Law and Justice

Muhammad's accomplice, 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, was convicted in mid-December of terrorism and capital murder in the October slaying of Linda Franklin, one of the victims of the sniper spree. A jury sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Before Muhammad's trial, Judge LeRoy Millette Jr. ruled that defense attorneys could not present mental health testimony about Muhammad's background because Muhammad had refused to be examined by mental health experts hired by prosecutors.

Testimony about Muhammad's childhood "would have been extremely dramatic" and may have had an impact on jurors, Muhammad's attorneys said in their motions.

While certain details of Muhammad's upbringing was revealed during his trial, including the death of his mother, Myrtis, from breast cancer when Muhammad was 2-years-old, jurors did not hear of the alleged beatings and other abuse.

According to the motions, Muhammad's uncle, Felton Holiday, worked as a guard at a Louisiana reform school in the early 1960s, and beat a 15-year-old mentally retarded prisoner to death. Holiday beat the child with a leather strap 25 to 30 times, according to court records.

Muhammad's attorneys submitted graphic photographs of the boy with lash marks to his buttocks.

Felton Holiday also beat John Muhammad, according to Edward Williams, Muhammad's youngest brother.

Another relative once forced Muhammad "to place his hand on the spark plug of a lawnmower" and pulled the cord. "It would shock the sh-- out of him, and they would just laugh in the yard," Edward Williams said.

In addition to the statement by siblings, the motions contain an affidavit by forensic psychologist Mark D. Cunningham, who said a host of factors harmed Muhammad, including the death of his mother from breast cancer, the abandonment by his father, physical abuse, peer isolation and abnormal neurological functioning.

Those factors undermined Muhammad's development, Cunningham wrote. Muhammad's jobs and marriage helped him establish a constructive life, he wrote, but "when these supports were removed, the underlying developmental pathology emerged -- culminating in the capital offense(s)."

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