GREENBELT, Md. (AP) – John Allen Muhammad’s lawyer derided the government’s extortion charges against the sniper suspect yesterday, 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 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.
“This is no longer a murder case; this is an extortion case,” he said outside court. “They can’t prove extortion. They can’t meet their burden of proof in making this a federal case.”
In arguing against bail, federal prosecutor James Trusty told Chief Magistrate Judge Jillyn K. Schulze that Muhammad, 41, used multiple names and birth dates and had been living out of a car.
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.
The two men have been accused of shooting 17 people, killing 12 and wounding five in Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. No one was hit in another shooting that went through a craft store window.
Wyda said authorities have not asked his client for a handwriting sample to attempt to link him to the note.