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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 19:30 GMT
Jurors urge death for US sniper
Muhammad listens as the jury's recommendation is read out at Virginia Beach Circuit Court
Muhammad was unflinching as the verdict was read out
A US jury has recommended John Muhammad should get the death sentence for his role in the sniper killings that terrorised the Washington area.

The seven women and five men spent five hours deciding on a sentence after finding him guilty of masterminding the shootings last autumn.

The 42-year-old Army veteran was convicted of one of the 10 killings.

His alleged accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, is being tried separately over the three-week long killing spree.

Muhammad did not flinch as the verdict was read out at the court in Virginia Beach, about 200 miles (320 kilometres) from Washington.

I don't believe there ever can be any total closure for something like this
Marion Lewis, victim's father

The judge tentatively set formal sentencing for 12 February to allow time for any post-trial motions.

The BBC's Ian Pannell in Washington says the jury's recommendation is not final and the judge may decide to reduce the punishment to life in prison.

However, judges - particularly in Virginia - have rarely taken such decisions, says our correspondent.

'Vile crime'

The jury had deliberated on the verdict on Friday and on Monday morning.

Jury foreman Jerry Haggerty said they had been mostly swayed by "the collective nature of the crimes".

"The vileness and violence was there across the board, and the lack of remorse," he said outside the court.

If the death sentence is imposed, Muhammad will have to decide whether it is by lethal injection or by the electric chair.

But Muhammad's lawyers are thought likely to appeal the jury's decision.

Marion Lewis, the father of 25-year-old victim Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, welcomed the verdict.

"Now I have to wait 10 or 15 years for the execution to happen.

"I don't believe there ever can be any total closure for something like this."

Prosecutor Paul Ebert, speaking outside the court, said: "Most people would agree that this is a vile crime and that he represented a future danger for society.

"One thing is for sure - they took pleasure in killing people, they took pleasure in terrorising people... and that's the sort of man that doesn't deserve to be in society."

Human side

Ten people died in the shootings - carried out from the back of a specially converted car - in October 2002.

Muhammad was convicted last week of the killing of Dean Meyers on 9 October 2002 and of murdering "at least one other person".

In closing arguments, defence lawyers said that a 2001 custody battle - in which Muhammad lost the children to his ex-wife - was a turning point in his life and this former side of him as a loving father could be rediscovered.

But prosecutor James Willett told the jury that Muhammad's good side had gone for ever.

Muhammad's alleged accomplice, 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, faces a similar charge at his trial in the nearby town of Chesapeake.

He could also face the death penalty if found guilty, despite his age.

Mr Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the killings, is said to have admitted to police he pulled the trigger in all of the shootings.

His lawyers are expected to argue that the teenager was brainwashed by Muhammad.

The BBC's Ian Pannell
"The judge will reconvene the court in February next year"


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