At this point, it’s pretty late in the legal game for John Muhammad, known as The Washington Sniper. Tried and sentenced to death for the killing of Dean Meyers, the victim of a sniper’s bullet at a Manassas, Virginia gas station in 2002, Muhammad has already exhausted appellate avenues aside from the United States Supreme Court. His attorneys have announced they’ll be filing an appeal with the Supreme Court on or before November 3rd.
Asking for Clemency Now Rather than Later
Usually, going to the Governor with a clemency request wouldn’t happen until all the court remedies had been exhausted. With the Washington Sniper, the strategy is different. Already, his attorneys have met with Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine — and they’ve shown the governor a video prepared to support their position.
Mental Illness as a Bar to the Death Penalty
There is already precedent from the United States Supreme Court (Ford v. Wainwright) holding that the mentally ill cannot be condemned to die because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Why urge clemency with the Governor’s Office now?
At the Devine, Connell, Sheldon & Flood website, defense counsel have posted their arguments in the unusual clemency request:
- 1. a juror has said they would not have voted for death if they had known of Muhammad’s mental illness;
- 2. experts report that the Washington Sniper suffers from severe mental illness, and this is documented by his brain damage, brain dysfunction, and other neurological deficits as well as his psychotic and delusional behavior;
- 3. he may additionally suffer from Gulf War Syndrome.
According to media reports, the Governor hasn’t been that open to considering clemency for the Washington Sniper — he’s said so, and his office has also leaned on the standard operating procedure of clemency considerations occuring only after judicial review is finished.
It’s an interesting and aggressive tactic that the Sniper’s defense counsel is taking. For all of us that oppose the death penalty, we’re rooting for ’em.