Sniping at the second Muhammad trial

Good morning. I hope y'all had a safe and happy weekend. My mother, the one without the computer, didn't get one this Mother's Day but she did get plenty else, including, but not limited to, a visit and flowers from her only son.

Closing arguments begin today in the fraud and conspiracy trial of former Enron chiefs Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling and I'm offering up for review and discussion two full-length and different takes on what to expect. A little later today, as the closings actually get underway, I'll post more on what prosecutors actually are saying about the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, do-no-evil executives.

In the meantime, though, it's worth focusing a bit on another high-profile trial in which a defendant is trying to game the legal system while prosecutors push ahead with a case that should not have been pursued. Just a few weeks after Zacarias Moussaoui's epic trial ended, John Allen Muhammad, one of the two convicted Beltway snipers, is representing himself in Montgomery County, Maryland. He has been charged with six of the 10 deaths caused by the snipers in a trial that has been called a "safety net" in case Muhammad's previous conviction and death sentence in Virginia don't pan out. The trial is a study in futility.

According to recent AP reports, Muhammad is desparately trying to get out from under the heap of strong physical evidence linking him to the crimes by reminding jurors that no one actually saw him shoot anyone. That tactic is going to work great until Lee Boyd Malvo, the other sniper, testifies for prosecutors and points a finger directly at Muhammad. Prosecutors have the gun used to murder all those people. They have Muhammad's DNA on the gun. And they have the car, remember, with the firing hole out the back side. Meanwhile, Muhammad has fired his defense attorneys (again-- he also fired them briefly during his first trial) and keeps focusing upon the "white van" that ended up being a red herring for authorities during the hunt for the snipers.

I have never understood what Maryland prosecutors were thinking in hauling Muhammad off of death row to make him stand trial in a state where the death penalty is not available. There is virtually no chance that Muhammad's Virginia conviction and capital sentence will be overturned by the appellate courts and, even if this occurs, it would occur soon enough to allow Maryland to go after the guy then. I understand that Maryland has an interest in pursuing justice on its own behalf and not relying upon its neighbor. But is the vindication of that interest worth the time and money the Muhammad trial is costing? Is it worth the psychic harm to the family members of the victims, who have to come back into court and testify again about the worst moments of their lives? Is it worth giving the sniper another opportunity to go to court (in fancy, borrowed suits, the AP reports) and have a soapbox? You tell me.

By  |  May 15, 2006; 9:00 AM ET
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Aren't the victims in this trial different? It's a different state, after all. I don't see how the witnesses and victims families can be testifying again about something if this trial is for different murders than the previous trials.

In any event, while there is no statute of limitations for murder, waiting another few years for all the appeals to run out just gives witnesses a chance to die or forget their stories, and evidence to be mislaid or destroyed. I think it's reasonable to have at least one separate trial if that opportunity is available.

No one with any sense wants this guy to walk out of prison, and this just helps ensure he won't.

Posted by: Cujo359 | May 15, 2006 04:09 PM

"SNIPING at the Muhammad trial"? Even the worst WaPo pun headline writers would know better.

Posted by: Marybeth | May 16, 2006 06:08 PM

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