John Allen Muhammad, "Beltway Sniper" and Gulf War Veteran, Is Executed
By Kim Pearson on November 10, 2009
BlogHer Original Post
UPDATE 9/25 PM: The Washington Post reports that John Allen Muhammad was executed by lethal injection tonight as family members of his victims watched.
He maintained his innocence until the end.
John Allen Muhammad, the Gulf War veteran turned serial murderer who terrorized the Washington DC area in 2002 with his teenage accomplice, is scheduled for execution in a Virginia prison at 9 pm EST. Gov. Tim Kaine, who says he personally opposes capital punishment, denied a last-minute request for clemency this afternoon. Yesterday, the Supreme Court said it would not intervene.
Muhammad, 48, was convicted of capital murder in 2003. He is thought to be the mastermind of a serial shooting spree in September and October 2002 that killed 10 people and left six wounded. Most of the shootings occurred in Washington DC and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, but Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, were also tied to killings in Alabama and Louisiana as well. Malvo was also convicted of murder in 2003, but was spared the death penalty because of his age.
The gravity of Muhammad's crimes has even death penalty opponents ready to give him the needle.
"Muhammad is the sort of soulless killer who puts death penalty opponents like me in a moral bind. We don’t believe in the state putting anybody to death, including irredeemable thugs like Muhammad, but we—or at least I—wish they were dead. I resent expending millions of tax dollars to support a wretch like Muhammad as his appeal winds through the courts. I detest the notion that as long as he lives, he can still hope for a delay of his rendezvous with lethal injection. It troubles me that our legal system affords him mercy that he denied his victims and their families."
According to news reports, Malvo testified at one of Muhammad's two trials, detailing plans for far more extensive killings. Prosecutors and Muhammad's ex-wife Mildred said the killings were a smokescreen for Mildred's murder -- intended as the last in an apparently random series of shootings.
Mildred Muhammad said her ex-husband's murder plot was the culmination of years of domestic violence for which she could get no help.
She has since become an advocate for domestic violence victims, detailing her story in a new book, Scared Silent.
In this interview with Bill Thompson, Mildred Muhammad described the horror of finding out that the man she had become someone she didn't recognize after serving in the Gulf War:
Law professor Ann Althouse noted this bit of ironic commentary from Muhammad's lawyer:
"In its effort to race John Allen Muhammad to his death before his appeals could be pursued, the state of Virginia will execute a severely mentally ill man who also suffered from Gulf War Syndrome the day before Veterans day."
Muhammad's attorneys have been pursuing the mental illness appeal for some time, to no avail. Amnesty International reported the results of a psychiatric evaluation arranged by his attorneys (.pdf):
"A psychiatric evaluation obtained by his lawyers determined that despite an “ability to sometimes show a superficial brightness,” Muhammad did not have “a reasonable degree of rational understanding.” The psychiatrist concluded that he “was not competent to stand trial,” that his “ability to make decisions and understand the proceedings was impaired,” and that his “judgment and ability to think logically were severely compromised.” Magnetic Resonance Imaging revealed that John Muhammad’s brain had serious abnormalities, including a shrunken cortex, indicating a loss of brain tissue likely to have been caused by a severe injury to the head. Another abnormality found in his brain is sometimes associated with schizophrenia, and two experts retained concluded that Muhammad probably suffered from this serious mental illness. This opinion was consistent with indications that John Muhammad suffered from delusional and bizarre thinking. Other testing indicated that he had severe cognitive impairments."
AI said that the trial judge rejected evidence about Muhammad's mental state because he refused to be examined by a prison psychiatrist.
Jeralyn Merrit notes that former Attorney General John Ashcroft chose to try Muhammad in Virginia to ensure that he would be executed. She notes that the prosecution also benefitted from a 2003 ruling that it didn't matter whether Muhammad or Malvo was the actual "triggerman" in the shootings.
Michelle Malkin is among those who believe that the Muhammad-Malvo case is of a piece with last week's killing rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. Malkin notes that the alleged Ft. Hood killer, Malik Nidal Hasan is a Muslim who reportedly had contact with al Qaeda and other Islamist extremists. Muhammad, she said was a Nation of Islam convert who, according to Malvo, justified his crimes with anti-American and anti-white rants. (The Nation of Islam is not considered a terrorist organization.) Malkin also posted drawings by Malvo that were used as defense exhibits at his trial to show how he was brainwashed by Muhammad. Other defense exhibits include letters from teachers at his Tacoma Washington high school attesting to his intelligence and good behavior. A psychiatrist who evaluated Malvo had this to say:
"By concluding that Lee Malvo was indoctrinated ("brainwashed") into his role as John Muhammad's loyal co-perpetrator, it was my professional opinion that Lee was not capable of freely forming an intent, and his young, budding sense of right and wrong had become thoroughly appropriated by and subsumed under John Muhammad's inverted "morality." In essence, Lee's "old" self (a highly vulnerable boy who was and is quite bright, personable and troubled by a traumatic past) became engulfed by his "new" self (he even took a new name, as many cultists do, and became "John Malvo"), a pseudo identity that was capable of committing horrendous crimes for the "cause" of his leader, John Muhammad. (Muhammad claimed the killings were part of a just and righteous holy war that would ultimately lead to a Utopian enclave in southern Canada open only to a select group of African-Americans who had been liberated from their "slave mentality.") For procedural reasons, I was not actually able to testify to my ultimate conclusion, but rather was only allowed to testify about my conclusion that Lee had/has a dissociative disorder (not otherwise specified) as a result of extreme indoctrination."
The state killing of John Muhammad will leave many questions unanswered. For my money, the most important of those questions is, could this tragedy have been averted by proper mental health screening and treatment when Muhammad returned from the Persian Gulf? Last week's horror at Ft. Hood may also be a warning that we need to elevate mental health care for our veterans and and military personnel to a much higher priority than it currently occupies - including care for the caregivers as well.
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