DC Sniper wants VA conviction overturned

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The D.C. sniper mastermind wants his death sentence in Virginia thrown out. Attorneys for John Allen Muhammad laid out their case in a 90 minute hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals in downtown Richmond.

Muhammad is one of two men found guilty in a 2002 killing spree that left 10 people dead. He was convicted in several states, but in Virginia, that conviction carries a death sentence. And that is what his attorneys are trying to avoid.

Jon Shelton argues that Muhammad was not competent to act as his own attorney in his 2003 trial in Virginia. He says the trial attorneys violated Muhammad's constitutional right when they did not notify the court a doctor considered Muhammad paranoid, delusional and incompetent to stand trial.

Katherine Burnett represents the state in this case and countered that competency was never an issue in the trial. She says Muhammad presented himself clearly in court.

Residents in Ashland, Virginia remember the case well. The snipers shot and wounded a man outside the Ponderosa off I-95. Some 85 miles from D.C.

"It was actually pretty scary. I was camping with a few friends and it came on the radio. It came through I was little bit younger then and we were kind of freaking out," said Jeff McCallister.

Whether Muhammad's conviction should be overturned is the talk of the town.

"I don't think that he should have it overturned. I mean he took a lot of lives. You know created a lot of problems for a lot of families," said Rhonda Bruce.

"Everyone messes up and I think he should have a second chance. Cause everyone has a heart in there. Even though he did wrong," said Stephanie Bruce.

"I don't think it's right. I think he had a fair trial. And he's getting what he deserves," McCallister said.

Several lower courts have rejected Muhammad's appeals, and if the 4th circuit turns him down, his only option to avoid execution would be intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court or Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.

The three judge panel is expected to make a ruling in several weeks.

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