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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Muhammad Guilty on All Four Counts in Sniper Trial

Aired November 17, 2003 - 12:21   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Want to update our viewers on the breaking news we have been reporting now for about a half an hour. John Allen Muhammad, 42 years old, guilty all four counts against him, capital murder, terrorism, conspiracy, use of a firearm.
Let's go live to Virginia Beach, Virginia. CNN's Jeanne Meserve has been covering this trial for us. She is now outside.

Take us inside, Jeanne, tell us what you saw and heard inside that courtroom.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, of course we were keeping our eyes on John Allen Muhammad, the defendant, in this case. He came into the courtroom betraying absolutely no emotion. And as best we could tell through the announcement of the verdict, again, absolutely no expression on his face. This has been his behavior through almost all of this trial. The only time when he did appear to show any emotion is when there is discussion of his children, his young children of whom he lost custody. But today, absolutely no reaction from him, very little overt reaction from the jury.

The person who did respond was a sister of one of the victims. Hong Ballenger was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her sister testified in this trial. She was sitting in the courtroom when the verdict was read. She began sobbing. Several people sitting around her passed her Kleenexes, put their arms around her. She was the only one who had that sort of pronounced reaction in the courtroom.

There were many other family members present in the courtroom. Others, I am told, were in the family overflow room. I spoke to a couple of them on the way out. They said they were very happy at this verdict. We are expecting a couple of them to come to the microphone shortly, probably to reiterate those very -- those sentiments.

Of course there is another entire phase of this trial, that's the penalty phase. They will determine there whether John Muhammad goes to prison for life or whether he gets the death penalty. Those deliberations will start this afternoon at 2:30. There's going to be a presentation of evidence by both sides.

And there was an interesting ruling from the judge before we left the courtroom today. This morning, the defense attorneys had asked that victim impact testimony be limited and that only the family of Dean Meyers be allowed to testify, because the Dean Meyers shooting is the central one in this prosecution. The judge has agreed with them, that is the only family that we will be hearing from during this penalty phase, unlike the guilt and innocence phase where we heard from relatives of almost every victim, or in some cases, victims themselves, had they survived the shooting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know how many relatives from Dean Harold Meyers who was killed at that Manassas, Virginia gas station, how many of those relatives will make an appearance?

MESERVE: Unclear at this point. We know that his brother, Larry Meyers, was the one family member who testified during the guilt and innocence phase. But his brother, Bob, has also been here quite a bit. Bob's wife was here. Larry's wife has been there. I know there is also a nephew, Larry Junior (ph), who has been present through some of the proceedings. Unclear at least point, to us at least, how many of those will be brought in by the prosecutors.

And of course another fascinating development today, Wolf, was the news this morning that apparently John Allen Muhammad tried to escape from the Prince William County Jail where he had been held. The defense attorneys had sought to keep this out of the penalty phase, saying that it wasn't relevant, that the -- that the evidence was flimsy, that it was based on rumor and innuendo.

However, prosecutors argue it is very relevant because it reflects on his future dangerousness. They said, in fact, that there was concrete evidence that John Allen Muhammad had been put in solitary confinement for some time because of that alleged escape attempt. I imagine we are going to hear more about it. All we know at this point is the date. It happened on March 23 of this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Jeanne Meserve doing an outstanding job for us covering this important trial. John Allen Muhammad, 42 years old, convicted all four counts. Jeanne and her colleagues will now begin covering this other trial that's beginning today as well, Lee Boyd Malvo, the 18-year-old alleged accomplice of John Allen Muhammad.

Jeanne, thanks very much. We will be getting back to you with some more information as it becomes available. Certainly the penalty phase beginning 2:00 Eastern to see if John Allen Muhammad will, in fact, get the death sentence.

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