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D.C.-area sniper to stand trial in Maryland

A Virginia judge on Friday ordered John Allen Muhammad extradited to Maryland to stand trial for the slayings of six people during the 2002 Washington-area sniper shooting spree.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A judge on Friday ordered John Allen Muhammad to be moved from Virginia's death row to Maryland for his second trial over the 2002 sniper shooting spree in the Washington area.

Maryland had sought to extradite Muhammad, 44, for the slayings of six people in that state, but he had challenged the move. He is on death row for his conviction in one of the 10 sniper killings.

Sussex County Circuit Judge W. Allan Sharrett did not provide a date for the extradition. But Montgomery County, Md., Sheriff Ray Kight said his office is prepared to move Muhammad to Maryland as soon as possible.

"If they say he is to be released to Maryland, the minute that happens, we're on our way," Kight said earlier Friday.

Fellow sniper serving life sentence
Lee Boyd Malvo, 20, who was transferred to Maryland in May, is already serving a life sentence in Virginia for one of the killings.

Maryland has agreed to transfer the men back to Virginia after their trials. If convicted there, Muhammad could get the death penalty while Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, faces six consecutive life sentences.

During Friday's hearing, Muhammad's attorney, Peter Greenspun, argued that an agreement between Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to extradite his client trampled on his right to be extradited in Louisiana or Alabama to face other charges.

Louisiana still plans to try both Malvo and Muhammad for the slaying of Hong Im Ballenger, who was gunned down in Baton Rouge in the weeks before the string of shootings in the Washington area. Alabama also intends to prosecute them for killing a liquor store manager in 2002.

Greenspun also argued that extraditing Muhammad to Maryland would make it difficult for him to access evidence in the Virginia conviction, which he is appealing to the state Supreme Court.

The judge dismissed Greenspun's arguments.

"The whole issue of the defendant's access to evidence ... that's an issue for the Maryland courts to address," Sharrett said.

Muhammad appeared to be in good spirits after the judge's ruling, grinning and laughing with his attorney. His hands and feet were shackled as he shuffled into the courtroom in a short-sleeved, bright orange prison jump suit. His hair was bushy, and he sported a mustache and beard.

Heightened security for trial
Security was tight at the rural courthouse, with armed guards blanketing the complex. Seven armed guards lined the perimeter of the courtroom during the hearing.

Muhammad and Malvo are charged in the 2002 Maryland slayings of James Martin, 55, on Oct. 2 in Wheaton; James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, 39, on Oct. 3 in Rockville; Premkumar A. Walekar, 54, on Oct. 3 in Aspen Hill; Sarah Ramos, 34, on Oct. 3 in Silver Spring; Lori Lewis-Rivera, 25, on Oct. 3 in Kensington; and Conrad Johnson, 35, on Oct. 22 in Silver Spring.

Malvo and Muhammad lived in the Tacoma, Wash., area before heading east and beginning their string of random sniper shootings that terrorized the metropolitan Washington, D.C., region. Malvo has admitted killing Keenya Cook in Tacoma in February 2002, telling police and psychiatrists the shooting was Muhammad's way of testing him. Prosecutors in Pierce County, Wash., have decided not to charge Malvo in the shooting.

Muhammad was convicted in 2003 of killing Dean Meyers in Manassas, Va., and was sentenced to death. He is being held at a state prison in Sussex County.