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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

High Court Rejects D.C. Sniper Execution Appeal

(CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the execution of John Allen Muhammad, the so-called "Beltway sniper," who shot 16 people in the Washington area in 2002, killing 10. He is set to be executed on Tuesday.

Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said the case "highlights once again the perversity of executing inmates before their appeals process have been fully concluded."

The high court typically would have reviewed Muhammad's petition at its conference on Nov. 24. But a federal judge in Virginia set the execution date for Nov. 10, forcing the justices to "resolve the petition on an expedited basis," Stevens wrote.

"By denying Muhammad's stay application, we have allowed Virginia to truncate our deliberative process on a matter - involving a death-row inmate - that demands the more careful attention," he added. "This result is particularly unfortunate in light of the limited time Muhammad was given to make his case in the District Court."

Stevens said the court would be "wise" to stay all executions scheduled before the justices have been able to fully review a death-row inmate's first application for a federal writ of habeas corpus.

"Such a practice would give meaningful effect to the distinction Congress has drawn between first and successive habeas petitions," Stevens wrote. "It would also serve the interests of avoiding irreversible error, facilitating the efficient management of our docket, and preserving basic fairness by ensuring death-row inmates receive the same procedural safeguards that ordinary inmates receive."

Though Stevens, Ginsburg and Sotomayor cautioned the court against acting hastily, they ultimately agreed with the Supreme Court's refusal to take up Muhammad's appeal.

Muhammad had unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and sentence to the 4th Circuit, claiming prosecutors buried evidence pointing to a lone sniper. He said the harsh capital sentence was based, in part, on the prosecution's claim that he had influenced his teen accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, who is serving life in prison.

Muhammad was sentenced to death for gunning down a man at a gas station during a three-day shooting rampage in the D.C. metropolitan area in October 2002.

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