'DC sniper' loses last hope of reprieve

Governor denies clemency to one of the gunmen behind killings in 2002
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The state of Virginia was preparing last night to execute one of the two men found guilty of carrying out the series of sniper attacks around Washington DC seven years ago that spread fear through the region and ended only when 10 people were already dead.

Any chance that John Allen Muhammad, 48, might be spared from lethal injection on Death Row appeared to have vanished when the Governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, announced he would not be offering clemency. The execution was due to take place before midnight last night.

Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, who was only 17 at the time of the attacks, became known around the world as the "DC snipers". Until their capture, they travelled in an area around the edge of Washington, covering towns in both Virginia and Maryland, indiscriminately firing at citizens as they went about the most mundane of daily chores, like filling their cars with petrol or shopping.

Malvo is serving life in prison without parole for his part in the killing spree. He was the main witness at Muhammad's trial, asserting that the shootings had been meant to create chaos as a diversion for Muhammad to seize his three children from their mother from whom he was estranged. Aside from the 10 people who were killed, another three were wounded.

The latest defence team for Muhammad had also lodged an appeal with the US Supreme Court for his death sentence to be commuted on the grounds that he was brain damaged and that he had not had a proper defence at the start of his trial. For a while he had even been allowed to defend himself. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal on Monday, however, even though three of the seven justices noted that the case had been handled with undue haste.

That apparently left Governor Kaine as his last hope. But that final obstacle to the execution was quick to fall yesterday. "I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence," the Governor said. "Accordingly, I decline to intervene."

The death sentence was imposed on Muhammad in relation to his killing of just one of the 10 victims. That was Dean Meyers, an engineer who was shot in the head while he was filling the tank of his car at a garage in Manassas, Virginia. Among witnesses who were expected to be present at the execution last night were relatives of Mr Meyers. Families of the shooting victims want to see Muhammad pay his "debt to society", said his brother, Bob Meyers.

"We don't really have vengeance in mind or vindictiveness," Mr Meyers, 56, said of the execution. "We just feel it's an appropriate step in the process. It provides some closure because of the horrific nature of my brother's murder."