Manassas Journal Messenger | Cost of justice

The sniper attacks last fall terrorized a broad area in two states and the District of Columbia leaving 10 dead and three people seriously wounded.

Daily press conferences were the norm as public officials stood in front of the television cameras. This grew to include mayors, county supervisors, county executives and U.S. senators from Virginia, Maryland and D.C., telling us that the region was cooperating to bring the sniper, or snipers, to justice.

Two suspects, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, were eventually captured in Frederick County, Md., and they will be tried for capital murder this fall. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced shortly after the arrests that Muhammad would be tried in Prince William while Malvo would be prosecuted in Fairfax County.

Prosecuting these two will not be cheap considering the massive scope of the trial, the evidence and witnesses involved. Both trials have now been moved outside of the Washington, D.C., metro area to give the defense a better chance at an impartial jury.

The new site for the Muhammad trial is Virginia Beach – the commonwealth’s most popular and expensive resort city.

Luckily the trial will take place in October, which is the beginning of the off season when vacationers are sparse. Any significant delay in the Mohammad trial could cause the costs to rise significantly.

Now we are told that the trial might cost Prince William County taxpayers an extra $1.2 million. This would go toward the lodging of witnesses and other trial expenses. Suddenly, all the politicians from other states and jurisdictions who stood in front of the television cameras in a show of cooperation are nowhere to be found.

Luckily, the county has a surplus and can spare the money if it’s needed. Plus, we have a police department that’s known for being frugal. In fact, some residents wouldn’t mind seeing this money spent on the sniper trial as long as it earns a conviction and accompanying death sentence.

Yes, Prince William County has the ability to pay for this trial, but should it be required to pick up the tab completely? While the sniper suspects might eventually be tried in other states, the initial trials are key to any future prosecutions. These two trials also include the most severe options of punishment.

The federal government chose to try the sniper suspects in Virginia – Prince William and Fairfax specifically – to pursue a conviction and the death penalty. The federal government also has great confidence in the commonwealth’s attorneys from both counties. Therefore, there should be some money coming from the Justice Department to help reimburse the expenses incurred by both Prince William and Fairfax.

Maryland and the District of Columbia were also part of the consortium which helped solve the sniper case. These two jurisdictions should also provide aid, just as Virginia would if similar trials are held in Maryland and D.C.

The first trials of the two sniper suspects will be the most important. Prince William County is more than willing to do its part to assure a conviction in order to get the toughest sentence possible. But just as all the jurisdictions in the metropolitan area absorbed the sniper terror, all should help with the prosecution costs.

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