Image: Family members of convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad pray in Jarratt, Va.
Dean Hoffmeyer  /  AP
Family members of convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad pray outside Greenville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., on Tuesday night.
updated 11/11/2009 12:38:57 PM ET 2009-11-11T17:38:57

John Allen Muhammad stepped foot into Virginia's death chamber and within seconds was lying on a gurney, tapping his left foot, his arms spread wide with a needle dug into each.

"Mr. Muhammad, do you have any last words?" the warden asked the mastermind behind the Washington-area sniper attacks that killed 10 in 2002. Muhammad, calm and stoic, was defiant to the end, refusing to utter any final words.

The 48-year-old died by injection at 9:11 p.m. Tuesday under the watch of relatives of victims of the killing spree that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area for three weeks that October. Victims' families sat behind glass, separated from the rest of the 27 witnesses, who were quiet, looking straight forward, intent on what was happening.

"He died very peacefully, much more than most of his victims," said Prince William County prosecutor Paul Ebert, who witnessed the execution at Greensville Correctional Center, south of Richmond.

Muhammad was executed for killing Dean Harold Meyers, who was shot in the head at a Manassas gas station during the spree across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

'Surreal'
Answers to why he and a teenage accomplice methodically hunted people going about their daily chores, why he chose his victims, including a middle schooler on his way to class, and how many there were went to the grave with him.

Meyers' brother, Bob Meyers, said watching the execution was sobering and "surreal." He said other witnesses expressed a range of feelings, including some who were overcome with emotion.

Video: D.C. sniper's ex-wife says she was real target "I would have liked him at some point in the process to take responsibility, to show remorse," Meyers said. "We didn't get any of that tonight."

After the first of the three-drug lethal cocktail was administered, Muhammad blinked repeatedly and took about seven deep breaths. Within a minute, he was motionless.

Nelson Rivera, whose wife, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, was gunned down as she vacuumed her van at a Maryland gas station, said that when he watched Muhammad's chest moving for the last time, he was glad.

"I feel better. I think I can breathe better," he said. "I'm glad he's gone because he's not going to hurt anyone else."

J. Wyndal Gordon, one of Muhammad's attorneys, described his client in his final hours as fearless and still insisting he was innocent.

"He will die with dignity — dignity to the point of defiance," Gordon said before going inside to watch the execution.

The terror ended on Oct. 24, 2002, when police captured Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo while they slept at a Maryland rest stop in a car they had outfitted for a shooter to perch in its trunk without being detected.

Malvo, who was 17 when carrying out the attacks, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing Linda Franklin, a 47-year-old FBI analyst who was shot as she and her husband loaded supplies at a Home Depot in Falls Church, Va.

The men also were suspected of fatal shootings in other states, including Louisiana, Alabama and Arizona.

Image: John Allen Muhammed
Anonymous  /  AP
John Allen Muhammad was sentenced to die for killing a man at a Manassas, Va., gas station.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Muhammad's final appeal Monday, and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine denied clemency Tuesday.

Muhammad's attorneys had asked Kaine to commute his sentence to life in prison because they said Muhammad was severely mentally ill.

"I think crimes that are this horrible, you just can't understand them, you can't explain them," said Kaine, a Democrat known for carefully considering death penalty cases.

A small group of death penalty opponents gathered on a grassy area near the prison and had a sign reading, "We remember the victims, but not with more killing."

Muhammad was born John Allen Williams and changed his name after converting to Islam. He had been in and out of the military since he graduated from high school in Louisiana and entered the National Guard. He joined the Army in 1985. He did not take special sniper training but earned an expert rating in the M-16 rifle — the military cousin of the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle used in the D.C. shootings.

The motive for the attacks remains murky. Malvo said Muhammad wanted to extort $10 million from the government to set up a camp in Canada where homeless children would be trained as terrorists. Muhammad's ex-wife said she believes they were a smoke screen for his plan to kill her and regain custody of their three children.

Sonia Hollingsworth-Wills, the mother of Conrad Johnson, the last man slain that October, sat in the back seat of a car outside the prison before the execution, which she chose not to witness. But she said she wanted to be there and was counting the minutes until Muhammad's death.

"It was the most horrifying day of my life," she said. "I'll never get complete closure but at least I can put this behind me."

Cheryll Witz, who's father Jerry Taylor, was fatally shot on a Tucson, Arizona, golf course in March 2002, said she was unhappy that Muhammad didn't say anything before he died. But she said his execution begins a new chapter in her life.

"I've waited seven long years for this," she said. "My life is totally beginning now. I have all my closure, and my justice and my peace."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: D.C.-area sniper executed in Virginia

  1. Closed captioning of: D.C.-area sniper executed in Virginia

    >>> wait for that.

    >>> but we begin in virginia where last night d.c. area sniper john allen muhammad was put to death. tom costello is at the scene of the shooting that sent him to the death chamber .

    >> reporter: dean meyers was shot over my shoulder at the sonoco while pumping gas , a tenth victim in this act. it was for this and other acts in the area that john allen muhammad was put to death last night.

    >> the execution of john allen muhammad has been carried out under the laws of the commonwealth of virginia .

    >> reporter: seven years after a murder spree that terrorizes washington, d.c. , virginia and maryland , john allen muhammad 's life came to an end at virginia 's greensville state prison .

    >> he seemed very unemotional.

    >> reporter: for three long weeks in the fall of 2002 , fear and panic gripped the greater d.c. area as shots seemed to ring out from nowhere.

    >> not again. that's a phrase uttered by many in our area.

    >> reporter: the victims were chosen at random, in parking lots and gas stations , while mowing the lawn, even a child on his way to school. in total, ten killed, three wounded. after their arrest on a maryland highway, a virginia jury convicted john allen muhammad , a gulf war veteran with mental illness, and separately, the 17-year-old he had befriended, lee boyd malvo . prosecutors say the two cut a hole in the trunk of a car from which they fired a high-powered rifle without being seen, and investigators think they may be responsible for a murder spree that stretched beyond d.c. to ten states with 17 victims. on tuesday, malvo's mother spoke to us by phone from jamaica.

    >> the first life muhammad took was my son's life. then he used my son to take others' lives.

    >> reporter: in maryland , the attorney general insisted he deserved the death penalty .

    >> he is the poster child for the person who should get it.

    >> reporter: put to death by lethal injection.

    >> he was clean-shaven, he was calm. they laid him down. he didn't resist. they asked him right after that, "mr. muhammad , do you have any last words?" didn't say anything.

    >> reporter: among the 27 witnesses, family members of the victims.

    >> this was very much justice and all the peace that i need to be able to just totally let all this go.

    >> reporter: and muhammad 's lawyer who read a statement from his family.

    >> we deeply sympathize with the families and loved ones who have to relive the pain and loss of those terrible days.

    >> reporter: muhammad 's body will be returned to louisiana for burial. lee boyd malvo was sentenced to life in prison . he was 17 years old at the time, and because of that, he cannot face the death penalty . back to you.

    >> all right, tom costello, thank

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