VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Jurors began deliberations Friday to decide whether John Allen Muhammad should be put to death for orchestrating last year's sniper rampage, but returned nearly four hours later to ask what they should do if unable to reach a unanimous decision.
"We have spent six weeks. ... I would simply urge you to continue your deliberations. We really want to try to get a unanimous decision," Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. (search) told the jury of seven women and five men.
Millette rejected a juror's request for the panel to do general research on the death penalty.
"Don't do any legal research on it. Don't do any looking on the Internet. Don't do anything at all," Millette told her.
If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision on the death penalty, Muhammad automatically would receive life in prison.
The judge adjourned court for the day, telling the jurors to return Monday at 9 a.m.
The jury will decide whether Muhammad should live or die for the slaying of Dean Harold Meyers (search) on Oct. 9, 2002, in Manassas, one of the 13 sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington region last year. He was convicted Monday of two capital murder charges.
Jurors will have to weigh whether his crimes are "vile, horrible or inhuman" and whether he poses a future risk if he is given life in prison instead of a death sentence.
In the trial of alleged Muhammad accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo (search), a police detective testified Friday that Malvo laughed when he described two of the shootings and that he said he shot a 13-year-old child standing outside a middle school because it was "a phase."
In trying to save Muhammad's life, his attorneys showed home video tapes Thursday of Muhammad playing the doting father — coaxing his toddling daughter to take her first steps, prodding his young son to flex his muscles like his dad.
But prosecutors in the penalty phase of the trial painted a much grimmer picture of the man. The string of sniper shootings he masterminded last year left 21 children without parents, some as young as 6 months old.
"He doesn't care about children, human life or anything else God put on this earth except himself," Prince William County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James Willett said as he urged jurors to give Muhammad a death sentence.
Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro implored jurors to listen to their consciences — to realize that they decide whether Muhammad lives or dies.
"It is one of the biggest decisions you will make in your whole life," he told them. "A life is literally in your hands."
The closing arguments capped a six-week trial in which two starkly different sides of Muhammad were shown to jurors.
His defense has tried to depict him as the tender father, the excessively courteous man, the auto mechanic who built his own business and contributed to his community.
But through graphic victim testimony, gory photos and precise forensic evidence, prosecutors have painted him as a calculating, manipulative killer. They say he brainwashed his 18-year-old partner, Malvo, creating a two-man sniper team that hunted the Washington region in a beat-up Chevrolet Caprice converted into a shooting platform.
Malvo is on trial in nearby Chesapeake for the Oct. 14 shooting of Linda Franklin at a Home Depot. He also faces two capital murder charges.
Fairfax County homicide detective June Boyle began interviewing Malvo at 4 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2002, after federal charges were dropped and he was transferred to Virginia from Maryland.
Boyle said she spent the first hour of the interview "trying to form a rapport with him, trying to let him relax." When Boyle finally brought up the Franklin shooting, she asked Malvo whether he knew the distance of the shot.
"I know the distance. This isn't a paid assasination. This is strategy," Boyle recalled Malvo saying. "You don't just walk into battle hoping to win."
Boyle said she asked Malvo if he knew where Franklin was hit by the bullet.
"He laughed and pointed here, right here," Boyle said, pointing to the right side of her forehead.
Boyle said when she asked Malvo about the Meyers shooting, he again laughed and said, "He was hit good. Dead immediately."
Asked whether he experienced any stress during the sniper attacks, Boyle said Malvo replied, "No. Why stress?"
Boyle said Malvo also told her, "A head shot is best. But you can't always take a head shot because the person could be moving."
"He also said at one point, if he had a steadier barrel, they would have all been head shots," she said.
Boyle also asked him about the shooting of 13-year-old Iran Brown, who survived being shot in the abdomen as he stood outside a middle school in Bowie, Md.
She said Malvo told her he "really didn't want a head shot because there were other school kids around." When she asked why shoot a child at all, "He said, 'A phase,' " Boyle said.
The first witness when the trial resumed Friday testified that Malvo's DNA was found on the Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle used in most of the sniper shootings and on several items left at shooting scenes.
Under cross-examination, FBI DNA expert Brendan Shea acknowledged that he could not tell how or when the DNA was deposited on any of the items.
A Baltimore prison guard testified Thursday that Malvo admitted cutting down Franklin, saying he shot her "because she was standing there, lazy."
He also said he planned to shoot a bus full of school children pulling up to a Bowie, Md., middle school on Oct. 7. The buses pulled in the wrong way, the guard said Malvo claimed, so he shot 13-year-old Iran Brown as his aunt dropped him off.
Attorneys for Malvo don't dispute that he took part in the sniper attacks, but they contend he was brainwashed by Muhammad and is innocent by reason of insanity.
Both the defense and prosecution in Muhammad's trial agree that a 2001 custody fight that ended with Muhammad losing his children to ex-wife Mildred Muhummad was a seminal event in his life. Prosecutors have suggested that loss triggered his murderous spree a year later.
Jonathan Shapiro said Muhammad's "foundation cracked" when he lost the children. That doesn't excuse the killings, he said, but jurors should believe that Muhammad could claim some of his former self in prison.
Willett said Muhammad may have been a good father once, but "that person no longer exists. ... That person was murdered by this individual just as viciously and just as completely as everybody else."