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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Muhammad to Die

Aired November 24, 2003 - 10:49   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

COSTELLO: Jeffrey, I want to pause for a moment because the judge just called for the jury to come in. Let's go back to Patty Davis in Virginia beach. Patty, tell us what that means. Patty, can you hear me? Patty Davis?
PATTY DAVIS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. We heard that the judge...

DAVIS: I didn't hear you. I'm sorry.

COSTELLO: We heard the judge just called the jury back into the courtroom. Can you tell us what that means?

DAVIS: Well, they're about to read that verdict. The judge called them back in. They said they had reached a verdict. Muhammad we are told is in the courtroom along with his lawyers, with the prosecutors.

The judge has instructed the people in the courtroom that there can be no demonstration of any kind once this verdict comes down. He doesn't want any cheering, he doesn't want any loud sobbing. He just wants this court to remain very professional.

John Allen Muhammad is soon to hear his fate. His fate has been in the hands of that jury, seven women, five men. Now they deliberated a little over an hour today in addition to the four hours on Friday. He is about to hear on those two counts of capital murder exactly what their decision is. Will he be allowed to live life without parole in prison or will they be sentencing him to die -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Patty, can you tell us inside the courtroom who has been watching this trial?

DAVIS: Well, we've had family members from a lot of the victims, Bob and Larry Myers, they're Dean Myers brothers, have been there. One of them has testified, has gone on the stand, talked about their brother, identified him.

They have also have had people, police officers identifying the murdered victims at the murder scenes. And a lot of people have been in court saying they saw that blue Chevy caprice these two men, John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested in on October 24.

And so lots of family members. There have been some that have broken down at times that have had to be taken out of the courtroom to let things proceed -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And, Jeffrey Toobin, I wanted to ask you about that because so many times family members are sitting in the gallery watching the court proceedings and I always wonder what makes them want to do that? Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.

COSTELLO: OK, let me repeat my question.

TOOBIN: They took me away for a minute.

COSTELLO: Oh, that's OK. I'm going to repeat my question. I have often wondered why family members want to sit in the gallery watching the proceedings, hearing in detail what's happened to their loved ones. But they feel a need to do that, don't they?

TOOBIN: Well there is really a tremendous division among crime victims' families on that. We tend to know those of the victims' family who want to be there, but there are often victims' families who don't want to be there.

COSTELLO: Jeffrey, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to interrupt because the jury foreman is reading some of its decisions. Let's go to Patty Davis now. Patty, what are you hearing?

DAVIS: Well, we have just learned that that jury has returned a verdict of death for that terrorism count. That terrorism count being intimidation of the public. John Muhammad has received the death penalty on count one, and that is death for terrorizing the public.

Of course, he is convicted of another murder count, as well, that is capital murder for taking part in one murder in more than three years. We are waiting for hear the verdict on that portion at this time -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Thank you, Patty. You keep listening.

Jeffrey, what happens now after they made all of their decisions on all counts?

TOOBIN: Well the judge has to formally impose sentence. That will actually be later, not necessarily today. But that is mostly a formality. And then the appeals process begins.

What is unusual about the Muhammad case, among many things is he is facing several other trials. The Justice Department and the Maryland and Virginia prosecutors are going to have some difficult decisions to make now that he's been sentenced to death about whether they will want to try him in all those other cases because this was just the Myers case that was before this jury even though other -- there was evidence of the other crimes before them.

Whether there will be a federal case against him. Whether there will be Maryland prosecutions plus the earlier crimes in the South. Those...

COSTELLO: Jeffrey, just to interrupt for a second. The jury has just read its decision. Death for the capital murder charge, as well. And go on with your thoughts.

TOOBIN: I guess once they found one it is sort of unlikely they would change their mind in the second.

His legal ordeal is far from over. There are -- there is a lot more to come. But I think Virginia, having legal the system that it does...

COSTELLO: Let me interrupt you on that thought. We want to go back to Patty Davis because another decision has been made. Patty, bring us up to date.

DAVIS: That's right, Carol. As you said, death in that terrorism count, death also for John Muhammad on capital murder for committing more than one murder in three years. The jury has decided the death penalty for both of those capital murder counts.

They've also given him ten years for conspiracy, that was the third count. And in the fourth count three years for the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime. A huge win here today for prosecutor Paul Ebert of Prince William County who called Muhammad the worst of the worst.

This jury had to find aggravates circumstances and apparently that's what they did. They had to find either Muhammad, to bring these capital murder charges, faced future dangerousness or that he had depravity of mind. They apparently did find one or the other.

Now, in Virginia, Muhammad will have the choice of one method of execution or another in Virginia. It is either lethal injection or the electric chair. He has that choice. If he does not make that decision, he will face lethal injection.

Now he will now be taken back to Prince William County for his formal sentencing in Virginia. In Virginia, the judge has the leeway on that. Although, also they impose the stiffest penalties here. He can't reduce the sentence. If he had gotten life he could reduce it, he couldn't increase it.

But here he's gotten the death penalty. The judge then will make that formal sentencing, does not have any leeway in this case to reduce the sentence.

Twenty-seven inmates now on Virginia's death row. John Muhammad will now make that number 28.

The jury apparently did not buy the defense's plea for compassion. Friends of Muhammad's, family members said he was a gentle, caring man. That he did not deserve to die for his crimes. His mother apparently died of breast cancer when he was a very young child. They argued, his defense lawyers, that his life still had value, at least for the three children that he had with his ex-wife Mildred Muhammad. But the prosecution brought Mildred Muhammad to the stand during the sentencing phase who said he had threatened to kill her.

Now we are hearing when that verdict came down guilty on two counts of capital murder, actually sentencing him to death on those two guilty counts of capital murder, that John Muhammad showed no emotion. We are not in the courtroom but we are hearing that from our Jeanne Meserve who is in the courtroom.

The judge is now releasing that jury. We expect to hear from some of the jury members here outside. And he thanked the jury for all the hard work they had done. Six weeks this trial. And what he said was he thanked them for the dignity with which they had conducted this trial.

We do expect to hear from some of those jury members here, outside of court. Then we will hear from the lawyers and then we will get a chance to hear from family members.

Some of those family members have said that they did want John Muhammad to face the death penalty for his role in taking the lives of their loved ones. And he will face that now.

You would anticipate, though, that his lawyers would appeal these sentences, these convictions, but we are waiting to hear that now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Patty Davis.

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