Beltway Sniper Loses Appeal in 4th Circuit

     (CN) – The 4th Circuit upheld the capital murder conviction and death sentence of “Beltway sniper” John Allen Muhammad, who shot 16 people and killed 10 during a three-week rampage of the D.C. metropolitan area in October 2002.

     Muhammad accused the government of hiding evidence that would have helped him at trial in 2003. The prosecution buried an FBI criminal analysis that pointed to a sniper acting alone, Muhammad said, which undermined the prosecution’s story of minor Lee Boyd Malvo’s involvement in the attacks.
     Malvo was 17 when he was arrested, and the two were found guilty of robbery and murder in Louisiana and Alabama before their shooting rampage in the D.C. area. Though the trial court based Muhammad’s conviction in part on an expert opinion saying that a team carried out the shootings, the opinion was never viewed as definitive, the 4th Circuit noted.
     Muhammad said ballistics evidence from two of the shootings was too damaged to provide a conclusive ballistics match, but the circuit court found that Muhammad did not correctly present claims for evidence error before the state court.
     During the shootings, Muhammad used a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, which was found with Muhammad and Malvo when they were caught sleeping in a car at a rest area in Frederick County, Md., on Oct. 24, 2002.
     According to Muhammad, the government also kept under wraps 12 letters Malvo wrote to another inmate, which showed that he was not “malleable” or subject to Muhammad’s control, but was thinking independently during the shootings. The allegation that Muhammad had influenced Malvo contributed to his harsh sentence, Muhammad claimed. But the courts had already determined that Malvo could think independently without the prison letters, the court found.
     Muhammad said trial attorneys never should have let him represent himself, as his brain scans allegedly showed abnormalities stemming from child abuse. They also ignored records of his low IQ, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, Muhammad said. But the circuit panel dismissed his claims, pointing out that Muhammad only represented himself for two days, and that his attorneys were intensely involved.
     Muhammad also argued that the trial court did not let him present a psychologist’s testimony that Muhammad’s abusive upbringing contributed to his immoral adult behavior. But Judge Gregory explained that Muhammad had not been denied the opportunity, he had waived it by refusing to undergo a state-sponsored psychiatric evaluation.
     Muhammad further claimed that the government misused witness testimony, which helped lead to his capital murder conviction. Muhammad said one witness gave a vague description of car at the scene of the shooting, but the circuit panel found that the witness had provided an almost exact description of the Chevrolet Caprice used in the rampage.
     The 4th Circuit acknowledged that the prosecution had “no explanation” why the information was withheld, but said the omission didn’t prejudice the case against Muhammad.
     “While not admirable, the Commonwealth’s actions did not violate the Constitution,” Judge Gregory wrote.

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