Judge in Sniper Case Upholds Virginia's Terrorism Law

The Judge in the case of accused sniper suspect John Muhammad has ruled the Virginia terrorism law is constitutional . This is significant because the law provides for the death penalty even if Muhammad was not the "triggerman."

Muhammad's lawyers argued the law was overly vague. The Judge disagreed. We side with the defense, particularly because we don't see how Virginia can seat a jury in the case if everyone in the jury pool is a victim of the crime:

The applicable portion of the terrorism law applies to violent crimes committed with the intent to intimidate the civilian population at large. We think that makes everyone in the civilian population of Virginia a victim, and therefore ineligible to sit on the jury. If Virginia can't seat a jury, they can't try the case and they can't convict.

For reference, § 18.2-31, the Virginia death penalty statute lists thirteen death-penalty eligible offenses. Number 13 is "The willful, deliberate and premeditated killing of any person by another in the commission of or attempted commission of an act of terrorism as defined in § 18.2-46.4."

§ 18.2-46.4. defines an act of terrorism as "an act of violence ... committed with the intent to (i) intimidate the civilian population at large; or (ii) influence the conduct or activities of the government of the United States, a state or locality through intimidation."

In other news from yesterday's hearing, prosecutors said they would likely agree to a request by Muhammad to waive the jury and have the case tried by the Judge, but the defense said it wasn't sure it wanted to waive the jury and has withdrawn the motion. The defense again is pressing its change of venue motion.

The Judge is considering a change of venue--more because of the argument that everyone in the community was victimized than because of prejudicial pre-trial publicity. He said he will likely postpone a ruling until the Judge in the Malvo case has ruled upon a similar request.

Muhammad's lawyers are not happy with lawyers for John Lee Malvo, the other sniper suspect. Malvo's lawyers have gone public with their claim that Malvo was brainwashed by Muhammad.

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