Accessibility links

Sniper Who Terrorized Washington Area Is Executed

John Allen Muhammad (right) is led into a Manassas courtroom in February 2004.

John Allen Muhammad (right) is led into a Manassas courtroom in February 2004.

(RFE/RL) -- The man who masterminded a series of sniper attacks that killed 10 people in the eastern United States in 2002 has been executed.

John Allen Muhammad died by lethal injection at a prison in the state of Virginia, while state officials and family members of the victims looked on.

Muhammad and a teenage accomplice shot their victims in Virginia and the neighboring state of Maryland, and in the national capital, Washington.

Muhammad died without explaining his motives or expressing remorse.

"The execution of John Allen Muhammad has been carried out under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia," said Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor. "There were no complications. Mr. Muhammad was asked if he wished to make a last statement. He did not acknowledge this or make any statement whatsoever."

The sentence was carried out after Virginia Governor Tim Kaine denied a last-minute plea for clemency, saying he could see no reason to overturn the death sentence. On November 11, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Muhammad's final appeal.

Selected At Random

In the course of the three-week shooting spree, Muhammad and his 17-year-old accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized communities in and around Washington, D.C. They toured by car, selecting as their random victims men, women, and children who were carrying out the everyday tasks of shopping, filling their cars with gas, or going to school. The pair was also suspected of fatal shootings in Louisiana, Alabama, and Arizona.

Muhammad, a convert to Islam and an expert marksman from his days in the U.S. Army, killed each of the 10 D.C.-area victims at a distance with a single shot.

The shootings had added impact at the time, coming as they did so soon after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington, and also after an anthrax mailing scare.

Muhammad's lawyers, in seeking to have the death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, argued that he had brain damage and neurological problems, as well as psychotic and delusional behavior.

They said these problems were worsened by the elusive illness known as Gulf War Syndrome, which he suffered as a soldier in the first Iraq war in 1991.

One of his attorneys, Jonathan Sheldon, suggested the American court system is failing to recognize the extent of mental illness in serious crime. He said up to 40 percent of prisoners awaiting execution are severely mentally ill, and most of the others have some psychiatric problem.

A group of opponents of the death penalty gathered on a hill outside the prison. And Sheldon sought to engender some sympathy for his client's family.

"Our sympathies also extend to the children of John Muhammad, who with humility and self-consciousness today lost a father and a member of their family," he said.

But the families of the victims were not in a forgiving mood.

"He died very peacefully, much more [so] than most of his victims," said prosecuting attorney Paul Ebert. "I felt a sense of closure and I hope that they did, too. I think that they looked forward to that, and I hope they have some solace by virtue of his execution."

Mohammad's young accomplice in the shooting spree, Lee Boyd Malvo, is serving a life jail sentence without prospect of parole.