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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
Sniper prosecutors seek death penalty
John Allen Muhammad
Mr Muhammad served in the Gulf War
Authorities in Montgomery, Alabama, have said they intend to seek the death penalty against the two suspects in the Washington sniper killings.

John Allen Muhammad, 41, and his stepson John Lee Malvo, 17, were arrested after a string of shootings in the Washington area left 10 people dead and another three critically injured.

We are absolutely convinced we have a very strong case

John Wilson, Montgomery Police Chief
The pair were captured at a Maryland rest stop early on Thursday morning where police found them asleep in their car.

Montgomery Police Chief John Wilson said there was enough evidence to seek murder warrants against Mr Muhammad and Mr Malvo for the killing of a woman at the liquor store in Alabama last month.

"We are absolutely convinced we have a very strong case," Mr Wilson told a press conference in the Alabama capital, adding that several witnesses had identified the men.

But Mr Wilson admitted that Alabama might not be given the opportunity to try the two suspects, as authorities in both Virginia and Maryland have said they may seek to try the men for sniper killings in those states.

Maryland has a moratorium on the death penalty, but Virginia is the state with the second-most executions in the country, after Texas.

The younger man could also face the death penalty if tried in Virginia, as the minimum age for execution there is 16.

Washington area police had received a call from one of the suspects taking responsibility for both a shooting in Alabama in September and the sniper attacks that brought terror to the Washington DC area for three weeks in October.

Evidence from the Alabama robbery enabled the police to identify the men and their car which was spotted at the rest stop in Maryland.

Federal charge

Mr Muhammad, a Gulf War veteran, was being held without bail in a maximum security facility in Baltimore after an appearance in federal court on an unrelated federal firearms charge.

His next court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.

Details surrounding proceedings against Mr Malvo, a Jamaican citizen, were unclear as his status as a juvenile means that his federal court proceedings are closed.

An aerial view of the highway rest stop
The men were found sleeping in their car
Mr Muhammad had reportedly had a relationship with Mr Malvo's mother, and treated the youth as a stepson.

Mr Malvo was being held as a material witness, pending charges, in the federal case against Mr Muhammad, which stems from a two-year-old court order blocking him from harassing or using force against his wife and children.

The firearms charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.


Residents of the Washington metropolitan region are "breathing a collective sigh of relief", according to Montgomery County Executive, Doug Duncan, head of the Maryland community where six of the murders occurred.

The weapon seized from the vehicle occupied by Muhammad has been forensically determined to be the murder weapon

FBI Special Agent Mike Bouchard
Ballistics tests have matched a rifle found in the car of two men arrested in connection with the Washington sniper attacks with the weapon used in the attacks from 2 October, the FBI has said.

"We have the weapon, it is off the street," Mr Moose told a news conference.

Police say they now feel "very positive" that the hunt for the gunman who terrorised the US capital and its suburbs is over.

Federal officials said the firearms offence charge was a way to detain Mr Muhammad while more evidence was sought in the case of the gunman who managed to kill and escape without alerting witnesses.

Former soldier

Mr Muhammad is an "expert" rifle marksmen who served in the army for 10 years, according to the US Department of Defense. He was deployed during the Gulf War and left the army with the rank of sergeant.

A pupil leaves Brookhaven Elementary School
The sniper has terrorised communities around Washington DC
He is also known to be a convert to Islam.

The arrests came only hours after warrants were issued and a nationwide hunt was launched for the two men.

The swoop was prompted by an emergency call from a motorist who spotted the car which matched a police description.

FBI agents searched a house in Tacoma, Washington state, 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles) from the capital, taking away a tree stump which may have been used for target practice.

Mr Muhammad served in the army at the Fort Lewis base near Tacoma and is believed to have lived in the house.

The BBC's Fergal Parkinson
"After the drama of the arrest comes the complexities of the law"
Montgomery County State Attorney Douglas Gansler
"Maryland could not seek a death penalty for Mr Malvo if he is a juvenile, Virginia could"
Montgomery Police Chief John Wilson
"We are absolutely convinced we have a very strong case"

Key Stories



Trail of terror
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See also:

23 Oct 02 | Americas
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