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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 22:37 GMT
Sniper trials to open in Virginia
Court sketch of John Allen Muhammad (centre) at an earlier court hearing
Muhammad (c) and his co-accused face further charges
Sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo are to be tried in the state of Virginia where both could face the death penalty if found guilty.

The bus where one of the victims was killed
The sniper attacks caused terror in and around Washington
US Attorney General John Ashcroft said Virginia held "the best range of penalties" of the four American states in which the two face charges.

Both Mr Muhammad, 41, and 17-year-old Mr Malvo are suspected of a string of attacks mainly in the Washington DC region this October which left 10 people dead.

Mr Muhammad will be tried in Prince William County over the killing of Dean Harold Meyers outside a petrol station in Manassas on 9 October while Mr Malvo will be tried in Fairfax County for the killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin in Falls Church on 14 October.

Virginia has executed the largest number of prisoners in the US after Texas since 1976.

"We believe the first prosecutions should occur in those jurisdictions that provide the best law, the best facts and the best range of available penalties," said Mr Ashcroft.

He characterised the Prince William and Fairfax murders as "brutal and random".

Southern attacks

The news of the first trials came as police in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia, said they had ballistics evidence linking the pair to the 21 September shooting of a man outside a shop in the city.

Ethiopian immigrant Million Woldemarian, 41, was shot and killed after walking out of the shop where he worked to check on a suspicious car parked outside, police said.

Last week, Alabama police said the two men had also been charged with the murder of Claudine Parker, 52, at a liquor store in Montgomery on 21 September after ballistic tests again identified the gun.

And charges have also been filed against the men regarding a murder in the southern state of Louisiana in September, after ballistics tests on a rifle allegedly belonging to them connected it to the slaying of Hong Im Ballenger, a beauty shop worker in Baton Rouge.

The 45-year-old victim was robbed and shot as she was getting into her car after work on 23 September.

The suspects have been in custody since they were apprehended at a motorway rest stop on 24 October after one of the nation's biggest ever manhunts.

A rifle was found in their car, which police say had been modified so a gunman could shoot through the boot without being seen.


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07 Nov 02 | Americas
03 Nov 02 | Americas
02 Nov 02 | Americas
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