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Muhammad attorneys, prosecutors argue over sniper's life

Sentencing phase continues Tuesday

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CNN's Jeanne Meserve on Virginia prosecutors making their case for the death penalty for convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad.
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CNN's Daryn Kagan on the jury finding Muhammad guilty of capital murder and three other charges related to last year's sniper shooting spree.
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John Allen Muhammad
Capital Punishment
Crime, Law and Justice

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) -- Virginia prosecutors on Monday began making their case for the death penalty, while defense attorneys sought to save the life of their client, convicted killer John Allen Muhammad.

Muhammad was found guilty Monday of capital murder and three other charges related to a slaying during last year's sniper shooting spree.

The seven-woman, five-man jury also found the Army veteran guilty of committing a murder in an act of terrorism, conspiracy and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

The capital murder and terrorism charges carry the death penalty as a possible sentence.

Jurors found Muhammad guilty of killing Dean Harold Meyers, a Vietnam veteran cut down by a single bullet that hit him in the head October 9, 2002, as he filled his tank at a Manassas, Virginia, service station.

Judge LeRoy Millette Jr. said he would limit victim impact testimony to just Meyers' family, upholding a defense motion to limit the testimony.

Muhammad, 42, is the first person to be convicted under Virginia's terrorism law, passed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The verdict followed a six-week trial in which prosecutors methodically laid out evidence in the sniper shootings that killed 10 people in the Washington, D.C. area and three in other states.

The highly anticipated decision came as testimony began in neighboring Chesapeake, Virginia, in the trial of 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, whom authorities say served as Muhammad's accomplice and trigger man.

Malvo has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His attorneys will argue he was brainwashed by Muhammad..

Prosecution seeks 'ultimate punishment'

The Muhammad jury deliberated for a little more than six hours -- the bulk of it on Friday, before announcing its verdict Monday. The sentencing phase began Monday afternoon.

In opening arguments for the punishment phase, prosecutor Richard Conway told jurors they had enough evidence to sentence the defendant to death "even if you didn't hear another syllable of evidence."

But he promised new information, including Muhammad's "remorseless and hate-filled attitudes" toward certain segments of the population, and about the shooting of a Jewish synagogue that authorities blame on Muhammad.

Millette ruled earlier that he would allow the prosecution to use Muhammad's anti-Semitic statement, but not other, anti-American statements.

Conway said he also would present evidence indicating Muhammad planned more crimes -- including a slip of paper recovered from his car containing the names of some Baltimore-area schools and a file on his laptop computer listing sites with notations such as "good spot."

"We reserve the ultimate punishment ... for the worst of the worst. And folks, he still sits right in front of you without a shred of remorse," Conway said.

Defense: 'Not necessary to extinguish one more life'

Isa Nichols points out Muhammad during the penalty phase of the convicted sniper's trial.
Isa Nichols points out Muhammad during the penalty phase of the convicted sniper's trial.

The sentencing phase adjourned Monday and will resume Tuesday morning.

Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro asked jurors Monday to recall their statements during jury selection that they would consider a life sentence, rather than the death penalty, against a defendant convicted of multiple murders.

Shapiro said Muhammad was "born into poverty, as a 3-year-old dealing with a mother dying of breast cancer, raised by a 12-year-old sibling."

"Is he (Muhammad) irretrievable, worthless, not worth our time, or is there some reason to spare him?" Shapiro asked. He told the jury he wanted to show them "why it is not necessary to extinguish one more life."

The prosecution then called its first witness -- Isa Nichols, whose niece, Keenya Cook, was killed on February 16, 2002, in Tacoma, Washington. Authorities believe Muhammad and Malvo killed her.

The prosecution also called Larry Meyers, brother of the man Muhammad is convicted of murdering. On the stand for less than three minutes, he identified a picture of his brother.

The prosecution also called law enforcement officers who responded to Meyers' murder.

Emotion-filled courtroom during verdict

Earlier Monday, prosecutors said they would introduce evidence that Muhammad tried to escape from custody and was put in solitary confinement afterward. A government source told CNN the incident took place on March 23.

The defense argued against allowing mention of the incident, insisting there was no proof and saying the allegation was an unfounded rumor. Millette found for the prosecution.

The verdict was an emotional point for families of victims, as well as some jurors. As the jury read the verdict, several jurors were in tears.

A sister of one of the victims -- Hong Ballenger, killed in Louisiana -- began sobbing. "I am glad they found him guilty," Kwang Szuszka said outside the courthouse, "and I'm still looking for the death penalty for justice."

Muhammad showed no emotion.

CNN producers Mike Ahlers and Laura Bernardini contributed to this report.

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