The U.S. government has filed federal charges against one of the two men suspected of terrorizing the Washington, D.C.-area in random shootings that killed 10 people and injured three others. Some of the charges could bring the death penalty for the suspect.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft pointed to the severity of the 20-count case against 41-year-old sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad in announcing federal charges Tuesday.
"So, you have all the serious elements of extortion, the use of a firearm, murder involved in the federal statute, and, for that reason, we believe it's important for us to have made it, in this complaint today, made these charges available," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft said the federal government has filed a criminal complaint, which will give it more time to gather additional information in the case.
"There is still analysis. There is still investigation," he said. "There are even other jurisdictions that are now developing ideas about potential relationship of these incidents to incidents in other settings."
Mr. Ashcroft refused to comment on the case of the second suspect, 17-year-old John Lee Malvo, because he is a minor. The two sniper suspects are currently in federal custody.
The states of Maryland and Virginia have already filed murder charges against the two suspects. Authorities in Washington state on the West Coast and in the southern state of Alabama are also seeking the alleged snipers for earlier murders there.
Mr. Muhammad's public defender, Jim Wyda, reminded the public his client is innocent until proven guilty and deserves a fair trial. "Mr. Muhammad and his lawyers still trust this system of justice. Please let it work," he said.
Mr. Wyda said the next step in the federal legal system will be a detention hearing in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, next Tuesday.