Sniper Attorneys Ask Va. Governor For Clemency

9:40 PM, Oct 23, 2009   |    comments
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- John Allen Muhammad's attorneys said Friday they are asking Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to spare the life of the mastermind behind the 2002 sniper attacks that left 10 dead in the Washington, DC area because he is too mentally ill to be executed.

Muhammad's attorneys used an unconventional video presentation to plead for his life, compiling recorded interviews with attorneys, mental health experts and witnesses to illustrate Muhammad's mental illness instead of a written clemency request.

Muhammad is scheduled to be executed Nov. 10.

Jonathan Sheldon said he and other attorneys for Muhammad met with Kaine's staff on Thursday to present the 40-minute video of recorded interviews set over graphic information.

A Kaine spokeswoman would not confirm the meeting took place or say whether the governor had received the clemency request. Kaine typically does not act on clemency petitions until after condemned inmates have exhausted their appeals.

Sheldon plans to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 3.

Sheldon said he felt like the video would make a "more genuine argument" than a lawyer's written pleas. Virginia has no guidelines on the form of a clemency request.

"Certainly, clemency in almost every case calls for you to make a compelling argument, because clemency is an extraordinary remedy," Sheldon said in a telephone interview.

Sheldon said he did not plan to publicly release the video until after the Supreme Court appeal is filed.

A summary of the clemency request posted on Sheldon's firm's Web site said execution was not justified because of Muhammad's "severe mental illness as illustrated by brain damage, brain dysfunction, neurological deficits as well as his psychotic and delusional behavior."

His attorneys say this was exacerbated by the Gulf War Syndrome he suffered as a sergeant in the first Iraq war.

The announcement says a juror in the case has said that she would not have sentenced Muhammad to death if she had known of his severe mental illness. The U.S. Supreme Court has banned executing the mentally ill.

"Life in prison without the possibility of parole has and will keep the people of Virginia safe," the announcement states.

Muhammad was sentenced to death for the slaying of Dean Meyers, who was shot at a Manassas gas station. Myers was one of 10 people killed over a three-week period in 2002 by Muhammad and his teenage accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo.

Malvo is serving a life sentence.

In August, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Muhammad's claims, including that he should never have been allowed to act as his own attorney for a portion of his trial because he was too mentally ill.

Last month, Kaine said on his monthly call-in radio show on WTOP that he couldn't think of any reason he would stop the execution.

"I know of nothing in this case now that would suggest that there is any credible claim of innocence or that there was anything procedurally wrong with the prosecution," Kaine said.

But Kaine promised to review any clemency request.

Kaine, a Roman Catholic, is opposed to the death penalty, but has allowed nine executions in the nation's second-busiest death chamber since he took office in 2006. He commuted one sentence because he said the man was too mentally ill to be executed.

Sheldon said he had faith that Kaine would carefully consider Muhammad's arguments.

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