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John Allen Muhammad
John Allen Muhammad in court

John Allen Muhammad (born John Allen Williams on December 31, 1960) carried out the Beltway sniper attacks. He was arrested in connection with the attacks on October 24, 2002. His trial began in October 2003, and the following month, he was found guilty. Four months later he was sentenced to death. Muhammad is a U.S. Army veteran of the Gulf War.

Following leads from the sniper attacks, his previous residence in Washington was searched, revealing evidence of sniper rifle use. A warrant was put out for his arrest, and he was taken into custody soon thereafter along with 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo. The gun found in his possession was determined to be the same as the gun used in the sniper attacks.

Born John Allen Williams, he changed his name to Muhammad in October 2001. He is a member of the Nation of Islam. In general, Muslims all over the world reject and disapprove of this group because of its divergence, sometimes extreme, from the teachings of the mainstream and original Islam.

Friends say Muhammad helped provide security for Louis Farrakhan's "Million Man March," but Louis Farrakhan has publicly distanced himself and his organization from Muhammad's actions.

After his arrest, authorities also learned that Muhammad admired and modeled himself after Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and approved of the September 11 attacks.

Muhammad is twice divorced, and under a restraining order from his former wife. He was arrested on federal charges of violating the restraining order against him, by possessing a weapon.

In the Army, Muhammad was trained as a mechanic, truck driver and specialist metalworker. He qualified as an expert with the M-16, the Army's standard infantry rifle. This rating is the Army's highest of three levels of marksmanship for a typical soldier. To receive an expert badge for the M-16, Muhammad would have had to hit 36 out of 40 targets, ranging from 50 to 300 meters during his yearly qualification on the M-16. The Bushmaster, allegedly used to commit the shootings, is a civilian version of the M-16. All the sniper victims—10 dead, three wounded—were hit by a single .223-caliber shot.

Muhammad was found after police followed a lead in which an anonymous caller (presumably Muhammad) told a priest to tell the police to check out a killing in Montgomery, Alabama. Federal officials were able to connect such a killing to Jamaican immigrant, Lee Boyd Malvo, whose fingerprints were on file with the INS. Malvo was known to associate with Muhammad.

In October 2003, Muhammad went on trial for the murder of Dean Meyers at a Manassas, Virginia service station. The trial had been moved from Prince William County, where Meyers was killed, to Virginia Beach, approximately 200 miles away. Muhammad was granted the right to represent himself in his defense, and dismissed his legal counsel, though he immediately switched back to having legal representation after his opening argument. Muhammad was charged with murder, terrorism, conspiracy and the illegal use of a firearm, and faced a possible death sentence. Prosecutors said the shootings were part of a plot to extort $10 million from local and state governments. The prosecution said that they would make the case for 16 shootings allegedly involving Muhammad. The terrorism charge against Muhammad required prosecutors to prove he committed at least two shootings in a three-year period.

The prosecution called more than 130 witnesses and introduced more than 400 pieces of evidence intended to prove that Muhammad had undertaken the shooting spree and ordered Malvo to help carry it out. However, the prosecution never introduced direct evidence that Muhammad had killed anyone. Instead, it methodically assembled bits of evidence intended to leave the inescapable impression that he had been at the center of the killings.

That evidence included a rifle, found in Muhammad's car, that has been linked by ballistics tests not only to 8 of the 10 killings in the Washington area but also to 2 others, in Louisiana and Alabama; the car itself, which was modified, prosecutors say, so that a sniper could shoot from inside the trunk; and a laptop computer, also found in the car, that contained maps with icons pinpointing shooting scenes.

There were also witness accounts that put Muhammad across the street from one shooting and his car near the scene of several others. And there was a recorded phone call to a police hot line in which a man, his voice identified by a detective as Muhammad's, demanded money in exchange for stopping the shootings.

"Certainly this is a circumstantial case," said Ebert, the prosecutor. "But I would submit to the court that it would be hard to imagine any more circumstances possible that demonstrate he was guilty of being the actual perpetrator of the killing of Dean Meyers" (a victim).

Muhammad's defense asked the court to drop the capital murder charges due to the fact that there was no direct evidence. Malvo's fingerprints were on the Bushmaster rifle found in Muhammad's car, and genetic material from Muhammad himself was also discovered on the rifle. But the defense contended that Muhammad could not be put to death under Virginia's so-called triggerman law unless he actually pulled the trigger to kill Meyers, and no one testified that they saw him do so.

On November 17, 2003, by unanimous verdict of his jury, Muhammad was convicted in Virginia of all four counts in the indictment against him: capital murder for the shooting of Dean H. Meyers; a second charge of capital murder under Virginia's anti-terrorism statute, for homicide committed with an intent to terrorize the government or the public at large; conspiracy to commit murder; and the illegal use of a firearm.

In the penalty phase of the trial, the jury after five hours of deliberation over two days, unanimously recommended that Muhammad be sentenced to death. On March 9, 2004, a Virginia judge agreed with the jury's recommendation and sentenced John Allen Muhammad to death.

See also: serial killer

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