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Wednesday, November 03, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Sniper's lawyers argue against death penalty in Va. court

By Matthew Barakat
The Associated Press

Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad
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RICHMOND, Va. — John Allen Muhammad's lawyers argued before the state Supreme Court yesterday that the convicted sniper cannot be sentenced to death under a Virginia law because he did not pull the trigger in the 2002 killing spree.

Muhammad was sentenced to die after being convicted of two counts of capital murder last year in the shooting of Dean Harold Meyers near Manassas, Va. Prosecutors had argued Muhammad and cohort Lee Boyd Malvo formed a sniper team and were equally culpable, even though Malvo said he pulled the trigger.

Defense lawyer Peter Greenspun said that Virginia law allows the death penalty only for the triggerman in such cases and that Muhammad should receive a life sentence.

But Justice Donald Lemons challenged that argument, likening the killings to a previous murder case in which two defendants were deemed eligible for the death penalty, one for bludgeoning the victim, the other for holding the victim down.

Muhammad's conviction on a second count of capital murder alleges the sniper killings were an act of terrorism. Under that law, Muhammad would not have to be the triggerman to get the death penalty.

But his lawyers asserted the law was improperly applied to Muhammad when its clear intent was to punish terrorism such as the Sept. 11 attacks.

The court is expected to rule on the appeal in January.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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