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Q&A: Why convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad was executed so quickly

Sniper John Allen Muhammad was executed just 68 months after sentencing.

Associated Press

Sniper John Allen Muhammad was executed just 68 months after sentencing.

Virginia courts move quickly

Why was the Washington sniper John Allen Muhammad executed so quickly, when it takes some prisoners many more years before being executed?

The Christian Science Monitor reported that Muhammad's 68 months between sentencing and execution Nov. 10 was about half the typical duration for death-penalty cases. Its analysis of 2007 Bureau of Justice Statistics data found that it takes an average of 153 months between sentencing and execution.

One factor was the speed of which these cases are handled in Virginia, where former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft sent Muhammad and accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo to be tried. David Bruck, director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, told the paper that the Virginia Supreme Court hears appeals rapidly.

Another factor was that many of the problems that lead to reversals and delays in death penalty cases in any state arise from the fact that many defendants suffer from severely inadequate representation, which can lead to questions over determinations of guilt and imposing the death penalty, said Anne S. Emanuel, a law professor at Georgia State University. High-profile defendants like Muhammad are far more likely to be well represented at trial, she said.

Malvo, meanwhile, is serving multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Feedback to slower lane Q&A

Several writers had a different interpretation of a question from the Nov. 24 column about driving the speed limit in the left lane of a two-lane highway and whether that would warrant a ticket.

Some felt that the writer had a "holier than thou" attitude and was trying to control speeders. That "blocking" often leads to accidents stemming from frustration, they said.

Another writer, a retired police officer, points out that the issue is not so much speeding as it is improper lane usage. He wrote: "There are several valid reasons for not driving in the left lane, even if you are at the speed limit. (It's) common sense: You're in the left lane, there's no traffic ahead of you, there's traffic behind you and/or you're being passed on the right, you are in the wrong lane. Move right."

Indeed, Florida Statute 316.081 states that you must drive on the right lane of a multilane highway unless passing another driver or if there is an obstruction in the road. The pertinent reference:

"Upon all roadways, any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway."

Q&A: Why convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad was executed so quickly 12/21/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 21, 2009 10:50pm]
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