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Jury Recommends Death Sentence for Washington Sniper - 2003-11-24

A jury in the U.S. state of Virginia has recommended the death sentence for the convicted mastermind of last year's sniper shootings in the Washington area.

An emotionless John Muhammed listened as jurors in Virginia Beach recommended his execution, either by electric chair or lethal injection. The jury announced its decision after two days of deliberation, one week after finding Muhammed guilty of terrorism, murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

The jury found that Muhammed was likely to pose a danger in the future and that his actions were exceptionally vile - two aggravating factors that allowed the jury to consider the death penalty under Virginia law.

Prosecutor Paul Ebert expressed grim satisfaction with the outcome.

"There are certain cases that deserve the death penalty, and we feel that this was one of them," he said. "We said from the [beginning] that the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst. And we think that Mr. Muhammed fell into that category, and the jury agreed."

One juror said he was initially opposed to the death penalty for Muhammed, but changed his mind after witnessing what he termed a "total lack of remorse" on the part of the defendant.

Defense attorney Peter Greenspun praised the jury for its service, even while taking exception to the final outcome.

"The law in Virginia allows death under these circumstances, and we do not see any good that comes from that," he said. "But we do respect the jury's verdict, while we obviously also disagree with it."

The presiding judge may alter the sentence to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, although judges rarely do so. Final sentencing is scheduled for February.

Muhammed was the first person convicted under a Virginia anti-terrorism law, enacted after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and at the Pentagon near Washington.

The 42-year-old Muhammed and another defendant being tried separately, 18-year-old Lee Malvo, were arrested last October, after three weeks of fear and chaos in the Washington area that saw 13 sniper attacks, resulting in 10 deaths.