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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Jury Recommends Death for Sniper John Muhammad

Aired November 24, 2003 - 11:23   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You were listening to the Prince William County Commonwealth attorney. He seemed so emotionless, but this was a tough time for him, wasn't it?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was a very high profile, high-pressure case. A lot of effort went into this. They have been working this for about a year. I would say he never betrayed any difficulty in the courtroom. Many of the themes he struck here today are themes we heard in the courtroom, that John Muhammad is the worst of the worst, that this is the man who deserved the death penalty, that this is a man that had no consideration for the children of the victims, many of these themes that were emphasized throughout the trial, and particularly in the closing arguments and the rebuttal that Mr. Ebert delivered just last week.

COSTELLO: And of course he called this a victory for society. This is also a victory for John Ashcroft, isn't it?

MESERVE: Well, in some respects, yes, because John Ashcroft intervened. You'll recall John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo were taken in custody in Maryland. Initially, that's where they were held, and there was a decision by the Justice Department to move them, and put Malvo in Fairfax and Muhammad in Prince William. It was designed in part because those portions of Virginia are renowned for their death penalty cases. Mr. Ebert has a very good record, as does Robert Durant (ph), he's the prosecutor in the Malvo case, very strong records in getting death penalty convictions from jurors. And So they have done it here once again. So yes, you could say that was a victory for John Ashcroft.

One of the big questions, is what in the world happens next? There's an appeal process to go through in Virginia, and yet there are many other jurisdictions waiting to prosecute these two men. I asked last week one member of the prosecution team, so what happens now? And he said, you know, we really don't know, that is something that needs to be sorted out. I said, well, who does sort it out? He said, we don't even know the answer to that question.

So this is really unprecedented in several respects. It is going to will take some time to see how it shakes down -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And, Jeanne, if you could help us out here, just to bring out audience up to date as to what is happening, can you go through what the jury's decision was today?

MESERVE: They on the two critical counts that carry a possible murder conviction, they went for capital murder, death penalty for John Muhammad on those two accounts, and the maximum penalties on the other two counts of conspiracy and use of a firearms in the commission of a felony.

I understand that Charlie Dean may now be at the microphones. He's the police chief in Prince William Country. Perhaps we can hear some of his comments if we switch up to the podium.

COSTELLO: Certainly so.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

CHARLES DEAN, MANASSAS, VIRGINIA POLICE OFFICER: ... much easier, because of the hospitality extended by Virginia Beach, sheriff's office, police department, the court services, the courts, and the prosecutor's office. And I visited on and off, but those that stayed here I know have benefited from that.

I want to commend Mr. Ebert and his staff. They are second to none in this country in my book. They have done a magnificent job of gathering together information from all over this country. Mr. Ebert is a great fisherman, and he in fact did not get to fish last summer for working on this case and traveling, and working day and night, working to understand the evidence, to understand this massive amount of evidence, and then to have it organized with the -- with the other two prosecutors in the manner as you saw it presented in court.

And in some ways it feels to all of us as if our prosecutors office and the task force that is representing victims to from all around the country.

So I'm very pleased with the outcome of the trial, and the outcome that was announced today. I hope this provides the victims with some relief. I think in some cases that may happen.

But that's all I have to say.

I can answer any questions that are easy.

They will be welcomed home. We still have cases that are ongoing of course, and their loss has been a drain on our abilities, but certainly, as with the financial cost of the trial, and some of the financial costs that were borne by Prince William County government, it has all been seen as worth it.

Well, I won't comment directly on what they're doing as far as raising issues in that trial, but what I saw doing, throughout the sniper investigation was outstanding cooperation between all agencies, the FBI, the ATF, Secret Service U.S. Marshals Office, and the local -- state and local jurisdictions, galvanized to work the case.

And it was, you know, when you think about it, involving at least three major -- three jurisdictions, three states if you will, two states and the District of Columbia initially. To me it was remarkable, that it worked as well as it did. Certainly there were issues as time went on about jurisdiction, but I think it worked really well. I was very impressed with how it worked. COSTELLO: And on that note we will bring in Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey Toobin, you heard the sheriff say there was outstanding cooperation between agencies. This thing certainly didn't start with outstanding cooperation. There was sort of a fight between Maryland, Virginia as to who was going to try these sides first.

TOOBIN: That's right, and that's why Attorney General Ashcroft was more or less obligated to step in, because both states had good claims to want to try him first. Maryland had more victims, but I think it's a demonstration of how committed this Justice Department under John Ashcroft is to the death penalty. That was clearly the motivating factor. Maryland had a moratorium on the death penalty for many years. It has not executed many people at all, and very few in recent years, and that was a priority of the Justice Department, to get Muhammad and Malvo to a jurisdiction where they might get the death penalty, and they're halfway there.

Looking ahead, the Malvo case has a lot of similarities of course, but of course it has a great many differences. There is a conversion in the Malvo case. Malvo was a juvenile at the time he committed or is alleged to have committed these crimes. Those factors make the Malvo trial a very different kind of proceeding.

COSTELLO: It's a grizzly confession, too. You know, it's interesting that during all of this, Muhammad really didn't talk about the crimes at all, as far as we know.

TOOBIN: No, the case was tried completely without any sort of confession or post arrest statement by Muhammad. There was chilling threats recounted by his ex-wife, that he was the kind of person who threatened to kill someone. But in terms of these sniper crimes, the great question that hangs over them really was unanswered by the Muhammad trial, which was why, why would you kill ten people randomly, racially mixed, mixed by sex, mixed location. There was no pattern. There was an extortion attempt for money rather late in the process, which always seemed like kind of an afterthought.

The Malvo -- the Muhammad case, I think, convincingly established that Muhammad was one of the two people involved, but as for the question of why, I don't think it came up with much of an answer. Prosecutors I should add...

COSTELLO: And maybe we will never know the answer to that.

Let me interrupt you for a second, Jeffrey.

A juror has come to the podium. Don't know the name yet, but we will get -- Jerry Haggerty, one of the jurors in this Muhammad case. He is the jury foreman, the man who read out the jury's decision on death for John Allen Muhammad, who was convicted of being the D.C.- area sniper, and we are awaiting his comments right now. You can see specifically what they handed down, death for terrorism, death for capital murder, 10 years for conspiracy to commit murder, three years for the use of a handgun. Let's listen to Mr. Haggerty.

JERRY HAGGERTY, JURY FOREMAN: First I would have to say that the specific nature I think is private among the 12 of us as far as the specific nature of what went on. But we certainly wanted to discuss the different options, how everybody felt looking at the evidence. Both from the verdict stage, as well as the litigation sentencing stage, and tried to internalize to ourselves, as well as collectively coming to a decision.

QUESTION: What was the hardest part, guilt or innocence?

HAGGERTY: I don't know that I have been able to quantify that. It's -- they are all difficult decisions. Certainly the death verdict is an extremely difficult decision to make. But they all lead down a path, and it is difficult, although the process says you cannot take into consideration the sentencing when you give the verdict, it is still lingering in the back of your mind. So they are all very difficult decisions.

COSTELLO: We can't hear the questions, so we apologize, because the report out there are not miced, but this is the jury foreman Jerry Haggerty talking about the decision today.

HAGGERTY: I think it was the total aspect of all of the evidence, all of the events. There was no one single thing that any of us could point to. Some of it made more sense to some than others, but it was the whole cumulative process that happened.

Just a minute. Let me -- over here.

I'd prefer not going into that. It was a unanimous decision.

HEATHER BEST-TEAGUE, JUROR: I'll address that one.

QUESTION: What's your name?

BEST-TEAGUE: Heather Best-Teague.

Would you mind saying the question?

QUESTION: The letters from the three children and the videos, the family videos what impact did those have on you? How did you feel?

BEST-TEAGUE: They weighed on this jury a lot. People that have children, they are very important pieces in your lives. And I'm sure they were to his at one time, but you have to overcome that when it comes to the line. You have to make the decision that is right. And we feel, as a jury that we have made that decision.

HAGGERTY: I'm sorry, I didn't...

We wanted to know what the process was, and I don't think that that's an unfair question to want to know what the options are. It did not mean anything at that point, other than it was at the beginning when we first started, we asked that question among ourselves before we even started discussions, what were -- what would happen.

ELIZABETH YOUNG, JUROR: I'm Elizabeth Young, juror 293.

At the time that I asked, I realized that I did not have much background information about capital punishment. That I had always described myself as a capital punishment agnostic, it was out there, but I wasn't really sure how I felt about it. And in the jury selection process, they asked how we would deal with that, if we would consider the death penalty or life in prison, and I said yes. When you sit down and consider it and you realize what an incredibly serious responsibility it is, I wasn't sure I had enough information. So I wanted to research other cases. I wanted to find out what other states did, and what other countries do. And I still do. I'm looking forward to doing that as soon as I go home today.

The seriousness of the crime, the opinions of the other jurors and, luckily, we had the weekend to weigh all of the different factors.

So for me, in the end, I mean, it's possible that in the future, I may become an anti-death penalty activist. But for now I felt I had to fulfill my obligation as a juror and meet the requirements of the law.

QUESTION: You talked about the weekend, what did you do to analyze it? What did you do to help you get to this?

YOUNG: Well, I did pray, and I spent the time with my family. I went out with my husband Saturday night, and I just tried to think about what was important to me and what the law was, and what you all would have wanted to us do if you were in our situation.

HAGGERTY: I think it's the collective nature of the crimes. The vileness, the violence was there across the board, and the lack of remorse.

Well, I think the first question goes without saying it's extremely difficult for anybody, whether you are sitting in the jury box or in any part of the courtroom or looking at them if they posted them in the papers. We were not allowed to read or do anything, so I don't know what has been posted.

But any graphic picture is terrible to look at. How we deal with them, I think each of us are going to deal with that individually. There's no way that I can speak collectively, and I can't tell you today I will react tomorrow.

Well, first, we were surprised. I mean, that's probably pretty obvious. I guess part of it was maybe some arrogance on his part. I think it's difficult to say why one would do that when you have two people or multiple people that are prepared for a year, and then all of a sudden, do that. So -- but I don't think we really had time to sit there and analyze that, the evidence and things kept coming, witness after witness, and so it was difficult to spend a lot of time focusing on it.

No. No. No.

Anybody else?

I think that we had all come to realize that any area in the Eastern Shore was a potential target. When you think about that if he hadn't been caught, if a couple phone calls hadn't been made, the potential for how long this could have gone on, and sooner or later, it was bound to effect more and more people. So it infected too many people as it is.

I'm sorry, one at a time.

I can tell you, personally, that I have not had a full night's sleep since this thing started. And I probably won't for a while, and I think I can speak collectively for the jury.

But I don't -- as far as the amount of evidence, they had a case to present, and as I mentioned earlier to a gentleman on the left, it was the total aspect of what happened. So, I think they did what they needed to do.

I'm sorry, over here.

COSTELLO: Again, we want to apologize, the reporters asking the questions are not miced, that's why you can't hear them well, but we are listening to members of the jury. This is the jury foreman, Jerry Haggerty. This jury came to a decision of death for John Allen Muhammad, the convicted D.C. Sniper. This is Heather Best-Teauge, a juror. Let's listen.

BEST-TEAGUE: I didn't really have a problem in that, because everybody respected the fact that the courts had ordered us all not to speak to anybody about the case. We were not even allowed to talk among ourselves about the case until the -- we were in deliberation, and that is a very hard thing when you are so upset and you go home every night and you cry. It has -- this whole thing has weighed a lot on my family, and as it has the families of all the victims.

But I just -- I'm glad we can talk now. It has been a little bit a relief today when we finally reached our decision and everybody -- no, I can't say good with the decision, but we knew we had made the right one.

QUESTION: What was the hardest thing for you?

BEST-TEAGUE: The hardest thing for me?

QUESTION: Yes.

BEST-TEAGUE: Truthfully, the fact that he has children, and that I know what it would be like to not ever be able to see mine again.

QUESTION: Can you talk about how your sons have been with you?

BEST-TEAGUE: My sons have been really great through this whole thing. I'm an avid reader of "The Daily Break." I have to have my horoscope every day. So I get my horoscope. Show me somebody that -- show me somebody that is worse. I mean, all the troubles we're having overseas and stuff like that, I think that -- there might be worse people out there. I would hope that as of our decision maybe there's a few less.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think that I tried to pay attention to his demeanor the whole time. And just on my personal -- personally I look for something in him that might have shown remorse or anything along those lines. And I just never saw it. The whole time.

QUESTION: Were you convinced that he pulled the trigger?

HAGGERTY: We came to a decision on that by the verdict.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

DENNIS BOWMAN, JUROR: Dennis Bowman, 312.

Friday I voted for life in prison. And I spent a long weekend thinking about it. And some of the other jurors had said, you know, against the death penalty, how many more bodies do we need to add to this pile we already have. And I agreed with that.

But then I thought about it, and I remember watching Muhammad in the courtroom there. And the incident with the sharpened spoon, his training as a combat engineer, his facility with his hands, as a mechanic, and I thought to myself what we have here is a home grown MacGyver.

This fellow, you can see the wheels turning in his head. He will buy his time, and somewhere down the road, if it takes 20 years, if he's locked up, you know, put in the deepest hole, sooner or later he is going to fabricate something, find an opportunity to harm someone else, whether it's prison personnel or another inmate.

And that was what brought me around this morning to decide for the death penalty to put an end to this once and for all.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BOWMAN: I would say to them that you all are victims, but I think we are victims, too.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BOWMAN: The total lack of remorse. I mean he looked straight ahead all the time. I mean, the only time he seemed to show any emotion at all is when it was something dealing with a personal family matter of his. To me, the man does not care about anything except himself.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BOWMAN: That's the possibility for all of us. Just the total lack of remorse seemed to cap it off for us.

QUESTION: Mr. Bowman you said on Friday that you first voted for life. What -- you are talked about what changed your mind. Was it some of your juror colleagues that made the case or when you listened to them, were they passionate about making the case? What changed your mind from Friday to this morning? Did you make the decision this morning or were you think being it over the weekend? When did you make that change?

BOWMAN: I made my decision last night. I did not sleep last night. I have been up all night. I got a nap yesterday afternoon for about four hours. But I just -- my mental processes were going on all night long.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BOWMAN: Well, I can just speak for myself. Everyone else, you know, their decisions at that time were -- you know, the personal -- in here.

And it's just the lack of remorse, the possibility -- no, probability that down the road there will be more casualties from this man.

One of the other jurors said something about let's end the cycle of violence. How many more bodies do we need to pile on this pile of bodies, this churned house we have.

And I was thinking about his children. I mean, the videotape is possibly what made me go that way at first. But then, you know, I have to think of other peoples children, other peoples families.

Thank you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jackie will make a statement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to thank the sheriff's department for doing just such a magnificent job of taking care of us. And I want to express my deepest sympathies to all of the victims, the families, and us, and even Mr. Muhammad himself. Thank you.

COSTELLO: All right. We want to bring in our legal analyst Jeffrey right now as we listen to more of the jurors from the John Allen Muhammad case.

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