November 11, 2009 / 2:30 AM / 10 years ago

Sniper who terrorized Washington area is executed

JARRATT, Virginia (Reuters) - John Allen Muhammad was executed on Tuesday for masterminding and carrying out with his teenage accomplice the 2002 sniper shootings that killed 10 people and terrified the Washington, D.C., region a year after the September 11 and the deadly anthrax attacks.

Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad addresses the jury as he delivers his opening argument as Prince William County bailiff Jack Fullmore watches during his trial in courtroom 10 at the Virginia Beach Circuit Court in Virginia Beach, Virginia in this October 20, 2003 file photograph. REUTERS/Martin Smith-Rodden/Pool/Files

The 48-year-old Muhammad was put to death by lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia, said Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor.

“Death was pronounced at 9:11 p.m. There were no complications. Mr. Muhammad was asked if he wished to make a last statement. He did not acknowledge us or make any statement whatsoever,” Traylor told reporters.

“Things went very normally,” Traylor added.

Three journalists who witnessed the execution said a clean-shaven Muhammad was stoic as he was strapped down and as the lethal injection was administered.

Muhammad was convicted of killing Dean Harold Meyers at a gas station near Manassas, Virginia, during a three-week shooting spree in October 2002 that spanned Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Paul Ebert, the Virginia prosecutor who won the death penalty conviction against Muhammad, was among the officials and family members of victims to witness the execution.

“He died very peacefully, much more than most of his victims. I felt a sense of closure and I hope that they did too,” Ebert told reporters.

As witnesses spoke to reporters gathered outside the correctional center, an ambulance carrying Muhammad’s body to the medical examiner office in the state capital Richmond left through a gate behind them.

Muhammad’s teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, also was convicted in a separate trial of another killing in Virginia and is serving a life sentence in prison.

Malvo was 17 at the time of the shootings.

There has been uncertainty over exactly how many of the victims were shot by Malvo and how many were killed by Muhammad, though courts have found they acted together in all of the sniper slayings.

The random shootings terrified many people in and around the U.S. capital a year after the hijacked airliner attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and the mailing of deadly anthrax-laced letters to politicians and media organizations.

The pair shot innocent people who were going about the ordinary tasks of daily life in places like gas stations, shopping mall parking lots and outside restaurants and schools.

Authorities said Muhammad and Malvo cut a special hole in the back of a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice and fired rifle shots from the trunk of the car.

The execution took place after Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine rejected Muhammad’s request for clemency based on his claims of mental illness.

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“I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was recommended by the jury and then imposed and affirmed by the courts,” Kaine said in a statement.

The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a request by Muhammad’s lawyers to halt his execution and also rejected their appeal.

Muhammad’s current lawyers argued that his attorneys at trial were ineffective by allowing Muhammad to briefly represent himself at the start of his trial. They said he was too mentally impaired to act as his own lawyer.

Reporting by James Vicini and Joanne Allen, Editing by Chris Wilson

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