A jury of seven women and five men began deliberations today in Virginia Beach, Va., in the case against Washington, D.C., sniper defendant John Allen Muhammad. Muhammad faces two capital-murder charges for the shooting of Dean H. Meyers, a Manassas, Va., engineer, on Oct. 9, 2002, at a gas station.
In closing arguments yesterday, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot reports, prosecutors argued that Muhammad set in motion the seven-state killing spree by turning teenage accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo into “an instrument of death and destruction.” Prosecutor Paul Ebert called Muhammad “the kind of man who would pat you on the back and then cut your throat.”
If jurors don’t buy charges under a multiple-murder law but still believe Muhammad killed Meyers, they can find him guilty of the lesser charge of first-degree murder.
In nearby Chesapeake, Va., two vastly different portraits of Malvo were painted yesterday in opening statements of his capital-murder trial.
The Virginian-Pilot says prosecutors described Malvo as a “smart, clever killer,’’ an integral part of a two-man sniper team that wanted to extort $10 million from the government by randomly gunning down innocent victims. “The scheme and plan was to leave enough dead bodies that the government would say, ‘Stop the killing. We’ll give you the money,’ ” said prosecutor Robert Horan.
The defense portrayed him as a vulnerable youth, programmed by a bitter father figure to be a child soldier and convinced that the killings were part of a plan to create a Utopian community in Canada that would improve conditions for black men in America. “We are not suggesting to you that they got the wrong man,” defense attorney Craig S. Cooley, told jurors. “What we are saying, however, is his role is different from what they are alleging.”
Reporting on one aspect of the sniper trials, the Associated Press reports that federal lawyers are trying to figure out why sniper case prosecutors and defense attorneys weren’t told that a federal expert witness used in the trial had a history of making racially charged statements.
Chemist Edward Bender acknowledged in interviews as early as 1991 he had made comments and told jokes ridiculing blacks while he worked at the FBI’s crime lab. “If you ask me if I’ve ever used racial statements, I’ll say, of course, you know,” Bender admitted to investigators. Rather than face discipline, Bender was moved to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and continued the lab work that brought him to the Muhammad trial last week. Muhammad and his alleged co-conspirator, Lee Boyd Malvo, are black.
The prosecutors and defense lawyers say they were not told by the government about Bender’s admissions or the investigations into his racial remarks despite a legal requirement that the government disclose all evidence that could challenge witnesses’ credibility.
Some experts called it surprising Bender remained as a federal expert witness, given what was learned about him in the 1990s. “I think it is shocking, but I can’t say I’m surprised,” University of Michigan law professor Samuel R. Gross said. “This is like a doctor who performed operations without washing up in one hospital and then they say ‘we’ll just get rid of him and let him go work for another hospital.'”
Bender testified last week that he found residue that indicated a gun was fired from the trunk of Muhammad and Malvo’s car, as prosecutors have alleged.