The attorneys for sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad have kept clients off death row in five of the six capital murder cases they have represented, a fact their colleagues attribute to a shared faith in the rights of the accused and a vehement opposition to the death penalty. Jonathan Shapiro and Peter D. Greenspun, who together have 54 years of legal experience, have been involved in some of the Washington metropolitan area’s most notorious cases.

Greenspun, 50, is perhaps best known for helping to defend NBC sportscaster Marv Albert in 1997 on assault charges stemming from a sexual encounter in Arlington. Shapiro, 54, was thrust into the spotlight in 2000 when the accused child killer he was defending punched him during a court hearing.

However, neither lawyer is likely to handle a more notorious case than the one they were assigned last fall: the sniper case of Mr. Muhammad.

The case is unlike any other, said David P. Baugh, a lawyer from Richmond and a friend of Greenspun.

Last fall’s random shooting spree affected not one person, or one family, but entire communities in the Washington area, Baugh said. Both lawyers must deal with extensive pretrial publicity that left many residents convicting both suspects — Lee Boyd Malvo is being tried separately — even before the first of the two trials had begun, he said. Mr. Baugh likened the lawyers’ commitment to providing a fair defense for Mr. Muhammad to that of a Western hero standing up for the accused in the face of a lynch mob.

“Jonathan and Peter are not only good lawyers, they’re good Americans,” Mr. Baugh said. “They believe and have faith in our law system. There are scholars and there are dirty, knock-down street fighters. [Mr. Greenspun and Mr. Shapiro] are scholars. These men are students of the philosophy of law. They are able to articulate and translate into common understanding the lofty goals of our system.”

Mr. Greenspun, who is based in Fairfax, and Mr. Shapiro, who is based in Alexandria, were not available to comment for this article.

It is the devotion to the justice system that, colleagues say, prompted Mr. Shapiro in November 2000 to plead with an Alexandria judge to let him continue defending Gregory D. Murphy, even though the man had sucker-punched him, knocking him unconscious during a pretrial hearing. Murphy, of Alexandria, was charged with the April 2000 stabbing death of 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett of Alexandria.

“He is a very conscientious lawyer. He’s a very thorough lawyer,” said Joseph Bowman, who was Mr. Shapiro’s co-counsel in the Murphy case. “He was on top of that case and had pretty much reviewed every single police report, every single forensics report, every trial the defendant had had in the past in a record amount of time.”

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