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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Who Has Jurisdiction of Sniper Suspects?

Aired October 25, 2002 - 12:37   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And as you've heard, Alabama authorities say they intend to seek the death penalty against John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo, even though he's just 17. The question of charges and punishment continues here in the greater Washington area where the sniper shootings, of course, covered seven different jurisdictions. Seven of the victims were killed in Maryland, which currently has a moratorium against the death penalty, but that's likely to be lifted in April. Maryland also forbids the execution of minors, unlike Virginia where 86 people have been put to death since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Two people were killed by the sniper in Virginia.
Three weeks of terror for the greater Washington, D.C. area, 13 shootings in 7 communities in 2 states and the District of Columbia. The question now, who should try the sniper suspects first?

Let's ask our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who's joining us from New York.

I'm getting the sense, Jeffrey, that Montgomery County -- that Maryland is going to get jurisdiction, but what is your sense?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's interesting, you know, possession is nine-tenths of the law is not formal law but it is significant that the meeting today is taking place in Rockville. That seems -- that has been the center of the investigation, that's where the task force was based. You know one of the rules when prosecutors fight over cases is sweat equity, who put in the most work? And if that's the case, it might well go to Montgomery County.

BLITZER: Normally under these circumstances, death penalty cases, murder cases, the federal government's inclination is to step aside. You anticipate that the Feds will simply say let's let the states sort it out?

TOOBIN: Well what's so peculiar here is that it's not clear to me what federal law these two may have violated. Murder itself is not a federal -- is not a federal crime. If you commit a murder in a post office, in an Indian reservation, then maybe murder -- then murder is a federal crime. But here it is not clear how you could even shoehorn this case into federal court. They're being held on federal weapons charges, material witness charges in federal court, but I don't think that this case could be brought -- certainly couldn't be brought easily in federal court. So it's likely to be played out in Maryland, Virginia and now we learn, Alabama.

BLITZER: And to clarify that one point, killing -- murdering an FBI analyst, an employee of the FBI, a federal law enforcement authority, that in and of itself would not necessarily justify the Feds taking charge?

TOOBIN: Right. Miss Franklin, of course, did work for the -- did work for the FBI. But as I am familiar with the law, and I can't say I've ever litigated this, but as I understand it, the person has to be killed in the course of his or her duties and she was just -- she was just shopping, she was not acting as an FBI employee. And there's no evidence that the killers even knew she worked for the FBI.

BLITZER: They have already been given court-appointed attorneys. I assume those attorneys are telling their clients, John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, don't say anything, don't cooperate. If they try to do the good cop/bad cop routine, just keep your mouths shut.

TOOBIN: Well,...

BLITZER: I assume that's the advice the lawyers would be giving them?

TOOBIN: Well, presumably, and I think this is true, once a lawyer is involved and once a lawyer tells the police don't talk to my client, they can't even try the good cop/bad cop routine. So presumably, at this point, there will be no more communication.

What's interesting, what we don't know is what went on yesterday, because obviously both were -- both were arrested at 3:00 in the morning. There was a period where the police undoubtedly, as they should, tried to interrogate them. So whether one or both said anything will, of course, be very interesting as the litigation proceeds.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, we'll be checking in with you periodically. Remember, later this afternoon we expect to get word from Rockville, Maryland on precisely who will get jurisdiction in trying these two men. We'll be getting back to you.

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