Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) will make the final decision about where the snipers will be prosecuted next. Besides Ebert and Horan, prosecutors in Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland and the District have expressed interest in pursuing their cases. Warner’s office said the governor would decide by Feb. 12, the date of Muhammad’s formal sentencing.
The decision was made more complex this week when a jury here declined to impose the death penalty on Malvo. Although states often are reluctant to allow murder convicts to be extradited, Alabama and Louisiana have argued that their cases are simpler, each focusing on a single incident and not the entire sniper series. Both states also allow the death penalty for juveniles.
If Ebert and Horan are allowed to try the snipers again, they will be in a far different — and more comfortable — position than they were before the start of Muhammad’s trial Oct. 14. At that time, they were preparing to use an untried anti-terrorism law; they seemingly had different theories of the same crimes; and the world was watching.
In Muhammad’s trial, Ebert steered away from trying to prove that the rifle was in either sniper’s hands, arguing instead that each was a vital part of a “killing team” responsible for all the sniper shootings. The prosecutor convinced a Prince William County judge, and then a Virginia Beach jury, that a murder defendant does not necessarily need to pull the trigger to receive the death penalty.
By the time the second trial ended this week, the prosecutors had established consistent theories of each sniper’s role: Muhammad was the mastermind, plotting and overseeing the attacks, and Malvo was his loyal disciple, the one taking all the risks as they gunned people down. Together, concealed in a beat-up Chevrolet Caprice with dark tinted windows, they killed unsuspecting innocents with single, high-powered rifle blasts.