Feds File Charges in Sniper Case

ByABC News
October 29, 2002, 6:58 AM

Oct. 29 -- Charges continued to pile up against sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad today as the federal government filed a 20-count criminal complaint that could make him eligible for the federal death penalty.

The five-page complaint alleges Muhammad, 41, committed federal offenses, including using a firearm during a killing and killing during an extortion scheme that interferes with interstate commerce, charges that could bring the death penalty.

The extortion allegation could stem from a note found at the scene of a shooting in Ashland, Va., that demanded $10 million and included threats to kill again if the demand was not met. According to the federal affidavit, several shootings took place near major highway exit ramps and commercial franchises, thus affecting interstate commerce.

Muhammad was also charged with discharging a firearm into a school zone, among other criminal counts.

The younger sniper suspect, John Lee Malvo, 17, was not named because he is a minor. A juvenile can be charged with a federal capital offense but cannot be executed. Officials are barred from discussing federal charges against a juvenile.

The two are suspected of carrying out a series of sniper attacks in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., that left 10 people dead and three wounded in a three-week span.

At a Washington news conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft suggested he supported the use of the death penalty in the sniper case.

"I believe the ultimate sanction ought to be available here," he said, calling the sniper slayings "an atrocity."

Defense Attorney Pleads for Fairness

The criminal complaint was filed against Muhammad in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., in connection with seven shooting deaths six in Montgomery County, Md., and one in Washington, D.C. and three injuries attributed to the D.C.-area serial sniper. Three shooting deaths in Virginia were not mentioned in the complaint.

During his initial court appearance this afternoon, Muhammad stood before a federal magistrate in a dark red prison jumpsuit and answered "yes, sir" when asked if he understood the charges against him.