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Muhammad to be Indicted in October 19th Shootings

Aired October 28, 2002 - 11:46   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have to break in to go to a press conference now in Hanover County, Virginia.
Let's listen in.

KIRBY H. PORTER, COMMONWEALTH'S ATTORNEY: I'd like to make a brief statement to the media, at which time, at the conclusion, I'll take some brief questions. However, I will not be able to comment on the facts or circumstances surrounding an ongoing criminal investigation. This is a conference to advise you of the prosecution procedure here in Hanover and what has taken place today.

The commonwealth attorney's office for Hanover County has presented indictments for the circuit court of Hanover County against John Allen Williams, also known as John Allen Muhammad, for the following: attempted capital murder of more than one person in a three-year period, attempted capital murder while in the commission of a terrorist act, commission of a terrorist act, Aggravated malicious wounding, conspiracy to commit capital murder, use of a firearm in an attempted capital murder and use of a firearm in the commission of an aggravated malicious wounding.

The grand jury for the circuit court of Hanover County has returned indictments against John Allen Muhammad on all counts. Identical charges have been brought against the 17-year-old male in the Hanover County juvenile domestic relations district court.

Today, the commonwealth's attorneys office for Hanover County has filed notice that we intend to prosecute the 17-year-old as an adult in circuit court and seek all sentences appropriate to an adult for punishment.

This office has been working closely with prosecutors from Spotsylvania County, Prince William County and Fairfax County. The attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Jerry Kilgore, the United States attorney for the eastern district of Richmond, Mr. Paul McNulty, and the United States attorney for Maryland, stationed in Baltimore, Mr. Thomas DeBaglio.

To coordinate our efforts in this matter, the cooperation between these two agencies could not be better. The United States attorney's office has worked with local prosecuting attorneys to make it possible for those responsible for these terrible terrorist acts to be brought to justice in the communities in which those acts occur.

I would like at this time to assure the citizens of Hanover County that the commonwealth's attorney's office, your commonwealth's attorneys office, is prepared to dedicate and has dedicated all necessary resources to ensure that those responsible for these terrible terrorist acts will be brought to justice.

Thank you very much. And at this time I will answer any questions that the media might have briefly. I will tell you that there is a package of my remarks available for dissemination at the conclusion of this.

The case in Hanover, very fortunately, our victim survived his attack. Under the law of Virginia, the death penalty is not applicable unless there was a death as a result of these acts.

QUESTION: When are you hoping to get these guys in Hanover to try them?

PORTER: We're in the process right now, as I said. We're coordinating with the other commonwealths' attorney's offices, to see who will go first in time. There's, obviously, the United States attorney's office that we're dealing with, and that answer is unknown at this time, but it's being worked on, very professionally.

QUESTION: What timeframe do you think?

PORTER: I would imagine, keeping in mind that Hanover County's case does not involve capital punishment, that other jurisdictions that do involve capital punishment will be first in time, prior to us, and a normal capital murder case can take as long as a year. We're probably looking at outwards of two years before this case is prosecuted, based on motions, et cetera.

QUESTION: Why is it important to get these indictments brought today then?

PORTER: Hanover County has a barring -- excuse me, not Hanover County, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a barring statute. Under that statute, if indictments or information are presented by the United States attorney's office on the same facts or circumstances involved in our case, then we are barred from bringing prosecution.

As I stated, the United States attorney's office, in coordination with us, has very graciously agreed to give us this window of opportunity where we could bring our indictments today.

QUESTION: ... a few hours ago filed for federal murder charges. How does that affect what you're doing?

PORTER: That would not affect what we're doing one iota. That's a different jurisdiction, dealing with a different factual scenario.

QUESTION: What's the process for the juvenile, Malvo, now. Is he going to be transferred over to the general district court?

PORTER: The process, if you proceed against an individual who is a juvenile, as I stated, we file for a preliminary hearing. Under the statutes, proper notice has been given. We will be asking the judge of the juvenile domestic relations court to certify any juvenile cases as an adult. Once certified to circuit court, we will be asking the circuit court judge to treat this individual as an adult.

Yes, sir in the back.

QUESTION: Your language on the charge, you used the term terrorist attack.

PORTER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Versus murder.

PORTER: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can you explain that?

PORTER: We brought a two-count indictment on the first one. The first count in that indictment was attempted capital murder, under the theory that he intended to kill more than one person in a three-year period. The second count involves this terrorist act. A terrorist act in the Commonwealth of Virginia is one which is designed to or with the intent to disrupt the normal course of civilian life. or to disrupt the normal course of business. And...

QUESTION: Is that something new since 9/11?

PORTER: Yes, that law came into effect July 1 of 2002.

ANDERSON: You are listening to Kirby Porter, attorney for Commonwealth of Virginia, also a state's attorney for Virginia. I'm going to bring in my colleague Daryn Kagan, who is In Washington, has been covering this story for a long time.

Daryn, so we've now heard, that was the press conference by the authorities in Hanover County.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right, and just to refresh our viewers' memory, this is the shooting that took place a week ago Saturday night in Ashland, Virginia. And as the prosecutor pointed out, luckily that man is still recovering from his wounds.

Let's go ahead and bring Jeffrey Toobin in. Jeff, you almost need a scorecard to keep track with all the prosecutors who want a piece of this case right now.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That certainly is what I was thinking. I was also struck by something that wasn't said by Mr. Porter.

KAGAN: I think I know where you're going with this. He was talking about the cooperation with -- we love the U.S. attorney's office, and we love those other prosecutors in Virginia, but Montgomery County, no mention of that.

TOOBIN: Conspicuous by its actions. No, he did not thank the prosecution office in Montgomery County, which, of course, is the site of six of the murders. And you know, what seems to be brewing here is a Maryland versus Virginia turf fight. And, you know, it's really pretty unseemly that they haven't figured out a way to work this out, because the stakes are so important here. Lots of people have lost their lives. No one wants to see prosecutors fighting, but it is clear by this press conference that everything is not worked out among these prosecutors.

KAGAN: Absolutely, especially after we saw the task force and all these different jurisdictions keep it together in the search for the sniper suspects.

I want to talk to you about some of the claims that these different prosecutors are making about why they have legitimate claims. First Doug Gansler from Montgomery County, he points out, he says, hey, I'm just doing my job, people lost their lives in my community,it's my job to file charges.

TOOBIN: I don't think there's anything wrong with that sentiment. I think it's obvious that with six people are murdered in a county, that county is going to have to prosecute someone. The issue is the timing. What Mr. Gansler said yesterday is he felt somehow obligated to file charges on Friday, as if somehow the community thought there would be no prosecution if they didn't file on Friday. That, of course, is really silly.

There's no reason to file on Friday. You can file on Monday, Tuesday, a month from now.

And I don't think anyone thinks this is going to fall through the cracks. What is significant is, he is obviously, by filing so fast, he's staking a claim, as he's said explicitly, he wants to go first, and that's really where the fight is going to be.

KAGAN: Well, and we're going to watch this one unravel over the weeks and months ahead.


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