JARRATT, Va. – John Allen Muhammad, the sniper who kept the Washington, D.C., region paralyzed by fear for three weeks as he and a young accomplice gunned down people at random, was executed Tuesday night by lethal injection.
Muhammad, a man who directed what many law enforcement officials consider one of the worst outbreaks of crime in the nation’s history, died in Virginia’s death chamber while relatives of his victims looked on.
Unlike his victims, Muhammad knew when and how he was going to die. He and Jamaican immigrant Lee Boyd Malvo, then 17, killed 10 people in the Washington area during a terrifying October 2002 rampage.
Muhammad and Malvo also were suspected of fatal shootings in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana and Washington state.
Prosecutors chose to try Muhammad and Malvo in Virginia first because of the state’s willingness to execute killers. He and Malvo were also convicted of six other murders in Maryland.
State authorities escorted Muhammad, in denim and flip-flops, into a small room at the Greensville Correctional Center and strapped him to a cross-shaped table. He was then injected with a series of lethal drugs beginning at 9:06 p.m. and he was pronounced dead at 9:11 p.m. Although he maintained his innocence to the very end, Muhammad, 48, ignored a request to make a final statement.
Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, said Tuesday night that Muhammad declined to meet with a spiritual adviser, but he did spend time with immediate family members in his last few hours.
Using a single .223-caliber sniper rifle and a modified Chevrolet sedan that authorities have called “a killing machine,” Muhammad and Malvo injected fear into the mundane tasks their victims were performing as they were hit: pumping gas, shopping, walking to school, mowing lawns, going to a restaurant.
The killings began with no explanation. Then the snipers left cryptic notes and phone messages demanding $10 million, just as millions of Washington area residents were distracted by white vans and other delusions that authorities were mistakenly chasing.
The shootings caused Washingtonians to change their daily rhythms. People zigzagged through parking lots and instructed their children to duck down in cars while at gas stations. Schools canceled recess and football games.
In the end, Muhammad and Malvo were tracked down because of a fingerprint left at an Alabama shooting referred to in one of the notes the snipers left behind. Investigators put that together with Muhammad’s purchase of the dark blue Chevy in New Jersey, a stolen Bushmaster rifle from Washington state, and an alert truck driver who noticed the car at a highway rest stop in Maryland.
Despite scores of witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence – the sum of which pointed directly at Muhammad and Malvo and led to capital murder convictions – law enforcement officials have not pinned down a solid motive for the shootings and cannot say for sure who specifically fired the fatal shots.