Jurors Recommend Death Penalty for Muhammad

Jurors in the trial of convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad (search) decided Monday that he should be executed for his role in terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area last fall.

The jury had been considering the sentence for Muhammad, the mastermind of the sniper killings, since Friday. Because it was a capital murder case, the only other option was life in prison.

"Certainly the death verdict is an extremely difficult verdict to make," said jury foreman Jerry Haggerty in a news conference after the sentencing. "It was the collective nature of the crimes. The violence was there across the board, and the lack of remorse."

As the decision was read, Muhammad was stoic — just as he had been through most of his trial.

Jonathan Shapiro, one of Muhammad's attorneys, said the defense team had no problem with the jurors, "who applied the law as it was given to them." But he added: "We have deep disagreement with any system that sanctions killing."

The jury deliberated a little more than five hours over two days before reaching the decision in the fate of Muhammad, a 42-year-old Army veteran who had asked police to "Call me God" during the sniper spree.

Muhammad was found guilty of killing Dean Harold Meyers (search), a 53-year-old Vietnam veteran who was cut down by a single bullet to the head on Oct. 9, 2002, as he filled his tank at a Manassas-area gas station.

Prosecutors depicted Muhammad as a ruthless murderer who was "captain of a killing team," and they presented evidence of 16 shootings, including 10 deaths, in Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana and the District of Columbia.

He was sentenced to death on both counts he was convicted of last Monday: multiple murders within three years and murder as part of a terrorist plot.

The victim's brother, Bob Meyers, said it was a bittersweet day for the families of those murdered by the snipers.

"It's a situation that we're sorry we have to find ourselves in, but we're gratified that we've come to this place at this moment in time," Meyers said at the news conference. "There will always be a wound that relates to my brother's death, including the way he died."

The trial for Muhammad's alleged accomplice, 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo (search), is underway in Chesapeake, Va.

Malvo is on trial for killing FBI analyst Linda Franklin (search), 47, outside a Home Depot store in Fairfax County on Oct. 14, 2002.

Prosecutors offered no proof that showed Muhammad was the triggerman, but they presented a mountain of circumstantial evidence linking him to the crimes.

His DNA was found on the .223-caliber rifle used in the killings, and prosecutors said a laptop computer found in his car included maps of six shooting scenes, each marked with skull-and-crossbones icons.

At the height of the killings, the area was so terrified that sports teams were forced to practice indoors, people ducked down as they gassed up their cars, and teachers locked their classroom doors and drew the blinds on their windows.

Some school systems in Virginia closed for several days after police found a note tacked to a tree at one shooting scene: "Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time."

"When they said your children are not safe, they meant it," said lead prosecutor Paul Ebert (search) after the death penalty decision was made. "Because of this trial and verdict they are safe."

A tarot card found at the scene of a Maryland shooting had a handwritten message that said, "For you Mr. police call me God. Do not release this to the press."

The jury's recommendation is not final. Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. (search) can reduce the punishment to life in prison without parole when Muhammad is formally sentenced, but Virginia judges rarely take such action.

Sentencing was set for Feb. 12.

"It's not a verdict we take any pleasure in per se, but there are certain cases that deserve the death penalty and this is one of them," Ebert said.

The jury concluded that prosecutors proved at least one of two aggravating factors allowing the death penalty: that Muhammad would pose a danger in the future or that his crimes were wantonly vile.

The jury also recommended the maximum sentences of 10 years in prison for conspiracy to murder and three years for using a firearm in a felony.

"It's quite emotional, but I think it was the right decision and I am relieved," one of the surviving sniper spree victims, Paul LaRuffa, said on Fox News. "It's justice."

LaRuffa was shot in the chest Sept. 5 in the parking lot of his pizzeria restaurant in Clinton, Md.

When Muhammad and Malvo were arrested on Oct. 24, 2002, various jurisdictions scrambled to prosecute them. Ultimately, Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) sent the two to Virginia to stand trial, citing the state's ability to impose "the ultimate sanction."

Only Texas has executed more people than Virginia since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 — 310 to 89. Virginia is one of 21 states that allow the execution of inmates who committed capital crimes as 16- and 17-year-olds. Malvo was 17 at the time of the shootings.

Juror Elizabeth Young told the news conference she had mixed feelings about capital punishment and had asked for more information on it during deliberations.

"It's possible that I'll become an anti-death penalty activist, but for now I felt it was my duty as a juror" to sentence Muhammad to death, Young said, adding that it was "the seriousness of the crime" and "the opinions of the other jurors" that swayed her decision.

She added that it was helpful to have the weekend to ponder the sentencing verdict.

"I did pray. I spent the time with my family," Young said. "I tried to think about what was important to me, what the law was and what you all would have wanted us to do if you were in our situation."

Marion Lewis, 51, the father of sniper victim Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, said Monday that his relief at the jury's decision was tempered.

"Now I have to wait 10 or 15 years for the execution to happen," he said. He added: "I don't believe there ever can be any total closure for something like this."

During the sentencing phase of the trial, defense lawyers sought to portray Muhammad as a caring family man, showing jurors a home movie in which he plays with his children and encourages them to take their first steps. Several witnesses also testified he had a loving relationship with his kids.

Her voice breaking, jury foreman Heather Best-Teague told reporters Monday that the hardest part about recommending death for Muhammad was "the fact that he has children. I know what it would be like not ever be able to see mine again."

But prosecutor James Willett (search) said that though Muhammad may have been a good father once, "that person no longer exists ... that person was murdered by this individual just as viciously and just as completely as everybody else."

"He doesn't care about children, human life or anything else God put on this earth except himself," Willett said Thursday as he urged jurors to give Muhammad a death sentence.

The defense was barred from presenting any mental health evidence on Muhammad's behalf, because he refused to be interviewed by the prosecution's psychiatrist.

The defense had previously suggested Muhammad may have suffered from Gulf War syndrome, and his ex-wife said his behavior was much different after he returned from Operation Desert Storm.

Prosecutors said the killings were part of a plot to extort $10 million from the government.

There was also some evidence in the trial's sentencing phase that Muhammad was out to exact revenge on his ex-wife, who had won custody of their three children and taken them to the D.C. suburbs. But the judge barred prosecutors from making this argument to the jury, saying there was insufficient evidence to support it.

Mildred Muhammad said he told her in early 2000 that she was his "enemy" and that "as my enemy I will kill you."

Prosecutors also presented evidence that Muhammad may have planned to extend the wave of killings over a wide swath of the East Coast. A map found on the laptop showed more than two dozen locations, stretching from Hagerstown, Md., to Raleigh, N.C., many with notations like "good spot."

Several icons marked locations in the area of southeastern Virginia where the sniper trials are being held. The cases were moved out of the Washington area to escape the pervasive zone of fear that permeated the suburbs of the nation's capital.

Meanwhile, in the Chesapeake courtroom, the prosecution Monday resumed its case in the Malvo trial. Malvo is the suspected shooter in the killings.

The judge in Malvo's case has ruled that jurors will be able to listen to the rest of a taped interview the teen sniper suspect did with police.

Jurors on Friday had heard four audiotapes of the interview, conducted by a Fairfax homicide detective, but defense attorneys objected to a fifth tape of the end of the interview, contending the sound quality was so poor that the transcript was inaccurate.

Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush said Monday she listened to the tape "many, many times" during the weekend and was satisfied that the transcript is accurate. She said prosecutors could play the tape and let the jury read the transcript.

In the interviews, Malvo admitted pulling the trigger in all the shootings, bragged about his shooting prowess and explained the sniper plan by weaving together the philosophical, logistical and nonsensical.

In the tapes played for Malvo's jury Friday, he at times sounded childlike and vulnerable, as when he asks police about the whereabouts of his "father," Muhammad, and if he could have raisins.

At other times he sounded maniacal and savvy, as when he imitated a lawnmower noise while describing the deadly shooting of a landscaper, and later chided detectives for asking him a "leading question."

Fox News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.