Sniper suspect's attorney says extortion charges hide weak case

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

GREENBELT, Md. -- John Allen Muhammad's lawyer derided the government's extortion charges against the sniper suspect Tuesday, accusing prosecutors of overreaching in order to make a federal case out of the murder spree.

The lawyer's claims came as a federal judge ordered the 41-year-old Muhammad held without bail.

Federal prosecutors brought charges against Muhammad last week under weapons and extortion law in the October sniper attacks that killed 10 people in the Washington, D.C., area. He could get the death penalty.

In court, federal public defender James Wyda accused prosecutors of trying to "shoehorn this case into federal courts" in using the extortion law. He said the government is trying to prove that "these seemingly random attacks were all motivated by a crackpot scheme to collect $10 million."

Wyda noted that authorities did not even receive a note demanding the money until Oct. 19, well into the shooting spree.

The other sniper suspect, 17-year-old John Lee Malvo, was ordered detained Monday after appearing at a closed juvenile hearing in federal court in Baltimore. Federal charges have also apparently been brought against Malvo, but authorities will not say so because he is a juvenile.

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