John Allen Muhammad (born John Allen Williams on December 31, 1960) is U.S. Army veteran of the Gulf War, who was arrested on October 24, 2002, in connection with the Beltway sniper attacks. He has been found guilty and given a death sentence.
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 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. 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.
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, for having 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. The 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's fingerprints, which 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 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 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 Mr. Muhammad had undertaken the shooting spree and ordered Mr. Malvo to help carry it out. However, the prosecution never introduced direct evidence that Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Muhammad's, demanded money in exchange for stopping the shootings.
"Certainly this is a circumstantial case," said Mr. 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).
Mr. Muhammad's defense asked the court to drop the capital murder charges due to the fact that there was no direct evidence. Mr. Malvo's fingerprints were on the Bushmaster rifle found in Mr. Muhammad's car, and genetic material from Mr. Muhammad himself was also discovered on the rifle. But the defense contended that Mr. Muhammad could be put to death under Virginia's so-called triggerman law unless he actually pulled the trigger to kill Mr. Meyers, and no one testified that they saw him do so.
On November 17, 2003, by unanimous verdict of his jury, Muhammed 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 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.
See also: serial killer