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Murder Charges Against Beltway Sniper Dismissed

A judge dismissed an indictment Friday against convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad (search), ruling that the state waited too long to try him for capital murder in the death of an FBI analyst who was shot in a store parking lot.

Muhammad, already convicted and sentenced to death for one of the sniper killings, was to have faced trial beginning in January in the analyst's death, one of 10 killings that terrorized the Washington area over three weeks in October 2002.

But Circuit Judge M. Langhorne Keith said Muhammad's trial in the slaying of Linda Franklin (search) did not begin within the time limit set by Virginia law, which requires a trial within five months of a person's arrest unless the defendant waives the right.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys disagreed on when Muhammad was arrested.

Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. argued that the speedy trial statute did not take effect until Muhammad was formally arrested May 27, 2003, on a warrant that was issued on Nov. 6, 2002.

But Muhammad's attorneys insisted the speedy trial countdown began no later than Jan. 6, 2003, the day Fairfax County police faxed copies of the indictment to the jail where Muhammad was being held.

Keith sided with Muhammad's attorneys, ruling that the January fax "constitutes an arrest for speedy trial purposes even if no formal arrest has been made." That was more than five months before Muhammad's original trial date of Oct. 4, 2003.

Horan did not immediately return a telephone message left by The Associated Press.

One of Muhammad's attorneys said the defense was mindful of shooting victims as they pursued the appeal. "It needs saying that we well remember the victims in these cases and the families who suffered so greatly," attorney Jonathan Shapiro said.

Muhammad was already convicted and sentenced to death last year for the Oct. 9, 2002, murder of Dean Harold Meyers (search) in neighboring Prince William County. But Fairfax County authorities sought a second conviction in case the first were overturned on appeal.

Muhammad's teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo (search), was convicted last year in the Franklin killing and sentenced to life in prison.