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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Jury Recommends Death for Sniper John Muhammad

Aired November 24, 2003 - 11:57   ET

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

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you back to Virginia Beach, Virginia, now. We're listening to victims' family members reacting to the sentence recommendation of death for John Allen Muhammad.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

BOB MEYERS, BROTHER OF SNIPER VICTIM: I do want to clarify, though, that I do not revel in the decision. It is a weighty one. It is not taken lightly from this side of the desk. But I do believe that it is a decision on the sentence that is right and proper, and I believe it adequately deals with the situation as a consequence. It's a situation that we are sorry that we have to find ourselves in, but we're gratified that we've come to this place at this point in time.

Are there questions?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: I don't ever anticipate having full closure. As I've said here before, the process has given us an opportunity to make great headway and take significant steps in that direction. But there will always be a wound that relates to my bother's death and including the way he died, the circumstances of it.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: I wasn't sure what they were going to give, but it seemed like there were issues, and they were of concern.

To go back to your question with respect to the -- if the lesser verdict would have been given, I'm not sure that it would have a whole lot to do with closure, but just from a principle standpoint, I just would have felt that it wasn't right. I would have felt that the proper consequences for the conduct would not have been levied.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: Say that again.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: I would say the majority do, but I don't -- it's probably best if I don't characterize what other people think. But I would say the majority of my family would support it.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE). MEYERS: Yes, why don't we finish, and then you can do that. Every time I get up here, I think that's the same pilot going by.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: I couldn't hear what they said.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: No, to this point I haven't seen any remorse. In fact, all the verbiage that I've heard from the defense side has not taken any responsibility. It's always been what the jury decided, not what was done. So, not only does there appear to be no remorse, but there appears to be no responsibility being taken as well.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: It's definitely troubling, because the prosecutors did a masterful job of presenting the evidence, and there was such a great preponderance of it that it takes a great leap of faith to think that justice wasn't served today.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: While we were in the courtroom?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: There was great anticipation, but I must say that those around me -- I'll wait. That pilot knows he can upstage me any time he wants to. Waiting in the courtroom, those around me and myself all pretty much felt that because of the swiftness of the response this morning that it would be a favorable decision. So, you know, we certainly couldn't be sure, but we had pretty good confidence that it was going the direction that we desired.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: Much like the original verdict. Relief. I just want to make very clear that this isn't a revenge thing, not in any way -- just feel like what was done was right.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: I've been asked that question before, and my answer has been that, for myself, given the opportunity, I would.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

MEYERS: I'm going to take the same approach with that as I did on this case. And that is, that I really didn't comment on my thoughts relative to a verdict or a sentence until the verdict was in. And I haven't even been to the Malvo trial. I've been here the whole time. So, you know, I'm not aware of everything that's being said. Certainly, I have some pretty strong feelings about the fact that he's admitted to being the triggerman in my brother's death and made some lighthearted comments about it. But, you know, I'm willing to wait for the process in that case, just like we did here.

SAVIDGE: You're listening to Bob Meyers. He is the brother of 53-year-old Dean Meyers, who was the victim in this particular sniper case -- the case now in which the jury has come back and made a recommendation of the death penalty.

We want to bring in CNN's Jean Meserve. She has been following all of this here in Virginia Beach.

Jeanne -- do us a favor. Bring us up-to-speed as to exactly what transpired this morning.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the jury last week had found Muhammad guilty on all four counts against him -- two of them carried a death penalty. Those were terrorism and capital murder.

This morning, the jury returned their verdict in the penalty phase, which is that John Muhammad should die for his crimes, because of the continuing serious threat to society and the wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman nature of the crimes involved here.

Prosecutor Paul Ebert headed up this prosecution effort. He called John Muhammad the worst of the worst. He said, you know, you never walk forward willingly to a death sentence, but some crimes certainly deserve it, and these crimes were among those. He spoke this morning about the fact that we still don't really know the motive behind these crimes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL EBET, PROSECUTOR: He probably had multiple motives. And one thing's for sure: They took pleasure in terrorizing people, they took pleasure in killing people, and that's the kind of man that doesn't deserve to be in society.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Now, the jurors deliberated for about five and a half hours last Friday afternoon. We were left with the impression that there was some disagreement on the panel, because they asked what would happen if we do not reach a unanimous decision.

And, in fact, the jurors have been speaking to us this morning. One of them indicated that he was one of the holdouts -- that what influenced him was a comment by a fellow juror about what point is it to pile up more bodies? But he said he thought about it over the weekend. He thought about the fact that John Muhammad had showed absolutely no remorse in the courtroom. He thought about the vileness of the crimes, the cumulative nature, and he thought about his future dangerousness.

In this trial last week, there was testimony about how John Muhammad might have at one point tried to have escaped from prison and how he had taken a plastic spoon from his food tray and sharpened that. Prosecutors contended that this was a potentially dangerous weapon. This juror said he agreed with that, that he felt it was just a matter of time until John Muhammad would hurt somebody else, even if he was in prison for the rest of his life.

So, this morning, after a sleepless night, he voted to go with the rest of the jurors and vote for the death penalty in this case.

Other jurors have indicated that they struggled as well. One mother, a bartender on this panel, who has at several times shown her emotions very much on her face, said that she had real difficulty with this because she's a mother. And she knows that John Muhammad was a father, and she saw those video tapes of John Muhammad with his kids. And they looked like video tapes that you or I or anybody else would have with their families. There were first steps. There were first teeth. There was a picture of John Muhammad with a child on his chest doing sit-ups and the child rocking back and forth, everybody laughing -- clearly a lot of love demonstrated on those tapes. And she said, having watched those and knowing how hard it would be for her having children that she had to think long and hard about this.

But in the end, this was a unanimous decision. Every single one of these jurors came to the conclusion that John Muhammad should die for the crimes. There were 10 murders here -- principal among them the murder of Dean Meyers, shot down at a gas station. This was a man who had survived a sniper in Vietnam, had come home with severe wounds, been rehabilitated, had gone to work, apparently, according to all accounts, a great contributor to society, as well as his family.

It was his brother who stood up there a short time ago and said, I don't take any joy in the verdict that was found today, but it would be a great leap of logic to say that justice had not been done here.

This was a recommendation for a death sentence. The judge has the final say, but several people have said that it's virtually inconceivable that he would change the verdict that was handed down today by this jury of seven women and five men.

Martin -- back to you.

SAVIDGE: Jeanne Meserve joining us from Virginia Beach, Virginia, thank you very much.

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