Lawyers for older D.C. sniper make appeal for his life
Associated Press Writer
Washington-area sniper John Allen Muhammad was regularly whipped with hose pipes and electrical cords and beaten with hammers and sticks by family members during a brutal childhood, according to lawyers trying to save him from the death penalty.
The lawyers argued that the jurors who sent Muhammad to death row for the 2002 sniper spree were improperly barred from hearing most of the evidence of Muhammad's harsh childhood.
Muhammad and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, were convicted in 2003 of a random killing spree that left 10 people dead in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia over a three-week span in October 2002 that terrorized the region.
Muhammad was sentenced to death, and Malvo was sentenced to life in prison.
In their filing, lawyers detailed much of the evidence that was banned from Muhammad's 2003 trial because he refused to be interviewed by the prosecutors' mental-health expert.
As punishment, the trial judge, LeRoy F. Millette Jr., barred the defense from putting on expert testimony of its own during the penalty phase.
Muhammad's brothers and sisters would have testified that they and Muhammad were regularly beaten by aunts, uncles and grandparents while growing up in Louisiana, when he was known as John Allen Williams, the lawyers said.
Millette's ruling did not technically ban that testimony, but the trial attorneys did not want to put the evidence on without testimony from their mental-health expert to explain the effect on Muhammad's development, according to the brief.
"These witnesses ... provided heart-wrenching stories of the abuse and neglect Mr. Muhammad suffered as a child - beatings with hoses and electrical cords, denial of food, clothing and basic necessities, and suffering on a scale difficult to imagine," wrote the defense lawyers, James Connell and Jonathan Sheldon.
The appellate lawyers said in their brief that "Muhammad apparently did not want to acknowledge his horrific childhood" and planned to deny any abuse, either on the witness stand himself or in interviews with the government's mental-health expert.
The appellate filing also includes evidence that Muhammad's brain suffered abnormalities that are associated with schizophrenia and other disorders.
Connell declined to comment on the filing, citing courthouse rules. Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert, who prosecuted Muhammad, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.
The appeal filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court is a habeas corpus petition, typically the last round of appeals available to a death row inmate.
Barring extraordinary circumstances, Virginia will be free to execute Muhammad if the habeas petition is not granted by either the federal district judge, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond or the U.S. Supreme Court.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:01 AM
Rebels tighten hold on Libya oil port
UPDATE - 09:29 AM
Reality leads US to temper its tough talk on Libya
UPDATE - 09:38 AM
2 Ark. injection wells may be closed amid quakes