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Convicted sniper's lawyers seek new trial

By Mike M. Ahlers
CNN


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorneys for convicted sniper John Muhammad say Virginia prosecutors never disclosed co-defendant Lee Malvo's jailhouse letters -- material they described as favorable to Muhammad and that would have been useful during his trial.

Consequently, they are asking Virginia's Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy Millette Jr. to toss out Muhammad's conviction or order a new trial.

Virginia Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert could not immediately be reached for comment. A hearing on post-trial motions is set for 1 p.m. Friday, but it is unclear whether the new motion will be heard then.

In November, a jury convicted Muhammad, 42, of one sniper shooting death and sentenced him to die. Formal sentencing by Judge Millette is slated for March 10. He has the power to reduce the sentence to life in prison, although such reductions of jury-imposed sentences are rare.

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 a court motion released Thursday, defense attorneys Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro said prosecutors were required to turn over the letters, but did not. If they had the letters, the attorneys said, they would have used them to buttress their argument that Muhammad never ordered Malvo to shoot any one, and that Malvo was "a planner, a schemer, and one capable of deception and dangerous results on his own."

Greenspun said the letters contradict the prosecutor's inference that Muhammad took a leadership role in the sniper shootings, and that the killings were at "the direction or order of Mr. Muhammad."

After he was arrested in the sniper shootings, Malvo, now 18, wrote to a fellow inmate.

In the handwritten letters, copies of which accompanied the motion, Malvo does not directly discuss the sniper shootings. But he counsels an inmate he calls "Pacman" on how to conceal his emotions, manipulate prison employees and look for opportunities to escape.

"This (is) a waiting game. Trust me. If you keep looking you'll find their weakness," Malvo writes.

"If I was in the population, what the f--- do you think I would be doing. Planning. Waiting. Looking everyday. I don't know about you, but I'll die trying."

The material was introduced by prosecutors in the Malvo trial and received widespread publicity at the time. Greenspun said he learned of the letters only by following the Malvo case.

Malvo was convicted at a separate trial of another sniper shooting. A jury sentenced him to life without parole. His formal sentencing is also scheduled for March 10.


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