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John Allen Muhammad Dies in Virginia Execution Chamber

Larry Traylor
Larry Traylor, Virginia Department of Corrections communications director, announced John Allen Muhammad's death outside the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va. (Photo by Maryland Newsline's Kelly M. Brooks)

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Slide show from outside the correctional center

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By Christopher M. Matthews and James B. Hale
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009

JARRATT, Va. - John Allen Muhammad, one of the Beltway snipers, was executed Tuesday night, ending the life of a man who unleashed a three-week reign of terror on the Washington-metro area in the fall of 2002.

Muhammad, 48, was pronounced dead at 9:11 p.m., killed by lethal injection at Virginia's Greensville Correctional Center. Relatives of his victims, his attorneys, members of the media and official state witnesses watched as Muhammad's sentence was fulfilled.

"I feel closure, I feel peaceful," said Paul Ebert, the Virginia prosecutor who successfully tried Muhammad. "I think the families feel closure."

Muhammad was sentenced to death nearly six years ago by a Virginia jury for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers. He shot and killed Meyers at a gas station near Manassas, part of a 22-day shooting spree that left 10 people dead and three injured. The shootings came on the heels of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and threw the Washington area into a state of utter fear.

Muhammad's accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, is serving three life sentences at Red Onion State Prison in Virginia. In accordance with a Supreme Court ruling, Malvo was ineligible for the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of his sentencing.

At 9:14 p.m., Virginia Department of Corrections Communications Director Larry Traylor announced Muhammad's fate to the media horde gathered outside the prison's entrance. More than 60 members of the news media stood in the on and off drizzle awaiting word.

Traylor said the execution was without complication and that Muhammad refused to say any last words.

"I never heard him utter a word or say anything at all," he said. "He was emotionless."

According to media witness Jon Burkett, of WTVR-TV in Richmond, Muhammad "staggered" into the execution chamber at 8:58 p.m. and was strapped to a table. He was then administered three chemicals behind closed curtains which rendered him unconscious, then stopped his breathing, and finally his heart.

The curtains were pulled back at 9:06 p.m., at which point Muhammad began to twitch and blink. By 9:08 p.m. he was motionless, Burkett said.

"We remember the victims, but not with more killings," said Beth Panilaitis, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "We also oppose the creation of more victims by John Muhammad being taken away from his family and friends." (Photo by Newline's Kelly M. Brooks)

Outside the perimeter of the Greensville facility, the scene was subdued in an area designated for protesters. Roughly 30 protesters, victims' relatives, and onlookers sat in their cars trying to avoid the rain.

The parents and friends of Conrad Johnson, an alleged victim of Muhammad, waited for Muhammad's death in the area designated for protesters. Milton Perry, Johnson's close friend, said the prison only permitted two members per family to watch the execution.

Sonia Hollingsworth-Wills and Tyrone Wills, Johnson's parents, said the evening made them nervous.

"It's been a long time coming," said Hollingsworth-Wills. "After tonight it will be a relief."

Hollingsworth-Wills said the execution would not bring complete closure, but it would help.

"I can put that part of my life behind me -- I will never forget my son," she said. "This will not bring my son back, but I am the voice of Conrad and I just have to be here for that."

Earlier in the day, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, announced that he would not grant Muhammad's appeal for clemency. Traylor said the director of the prison was on the phone until the last moment waiting for a call from Kaine in case he changed his mind. That call never came.

"Having carefully reviewed the petition for clemency and judicial opinions regarding this case, 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 written statement earlier in the day. "Accordingly, I decline to intervene."

Despite his personal opposition to the death penalty, Kaine has only granted clemency once since taking office in 2006. Nine inmates have been executed during Kaine's tenure.

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear Muhammad's lawyers' final petition for a stay.

Muhammad became the 104th inmate to be executed in Virginia since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Virginia is second only to Texas nationally in terms of the number of inmates executed since reinstatement.

Muhammad's execution drew victims' families from across the country to Virginia. According to Traylor, the prison had to turn away some of the family members because there was not enough room to accommodate all of them.

"There (were) many, many families that we don't have the space for," he said.

After his execution Muhammad's body was rushed to a medical examiner in Richmond. According to one of Muhammad's attorneys, J. Wyndall Gordon, the state will keep Muhammad's body for two days after the execution in order to verify his death.

Gordon said Muhammad made light of this during one of his conversations with him earlier in the day.

CNS-TV's Evan Lambert reports from the Greensville Correctional Center. (1 minute 58 seconds)

"He said, 'They'll probably put the handcuffs on me after I'm dead to make sure I don't run away,' " Gordon said.

Gordon, who served as Muhammad's standby attorney in the Montgomery County case in which Muhammad represented himself, said his client remained "dignified" to the end.

"His mood was the same, you would not have known that his death was impending just by talking to him," he said.

Gordon also said Muhammad continued to maintain his innocence.

"That's based on the evidence, or lack thereof," Gordon said.

According to Gordon, Muhammad's attorneys in the Virginia case were not given more than 30,000 pieces of evidence from the prosecution. In the Maryland case, Gordon maintained the jury was unavoidably biased and Muhammad was tried in "the court of public opinion."

Another of Muhammad's lawyers, Jonathon Sheldon, simply said that Muhammad's family and his lawyers sympathize with victims' families.

"We renew our condolences, and we offer our prayers for a better future," he said.

Banner graphic by Maryland Newsline's Lindsay Gsell. Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism
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