DC Sniper Executed

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

After refusing to meet with a chaplain, or to utter any last words, John Allen Muhammad, the man responsible for a three-week killing spree in Washington DC in 2002 that left 10 people dead, was executed by lethal injection in a Virginia prison on Tuesday night.

Muhammad, 48, died within minutes of receiving a deadly cocktail of drugs at the Greensville Correctional Center south of Richmond Virginia. Just after being strapped to a cross-shaped gurney in the execution chamber, the warden asked if he had any last words. Muhammad chose not to answer and lay very still and stoic.

Maintaining his innocence – and his silence – to the end, Muhammad showed no remorse for the killings, nor did he ever explain why he and 17 year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, who is currently serving a life sentence without parole, went on a shooting rampage that lasted three weeks and left citizens in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC paralyzed with fear. The two were also suspected of fatal shootings in Louisiana, Alabama and Arizona.

Using a car that had been specially outfitted for a shooter to perch in its trunk without being detected, Muhammad and Malvo targeted people who were going about their daily business. One victim was pumping gas, another was vacuuming her car. A 47 year-old FBI analyst was gunned down while she and her husband unloaded purchases from a Home Depot in Falls Church, VA.

They were eventually caught while sleeping in their car at a Maryland rest stop.

Muhammad, who was born John Allen Williams, changed his name after converting to Islam. Although his motive for the killings was never discovered, Malvo claimed Muhammad wanted to extort $10 million from the government to set up a camp in Canada where homeless children could be trained as terrorists.

Relatives of many of Muhammad’s victims were on hand to witness the execution.

The brother of Dean Harold Meyers, who was shot in the head at a Manassas gas station, said watching the execution was sobering and “surreal.”

“I would have liked him at some point in the process to take responsibility, to show remorse,” Bob Meyers told the Associated Press. “We didn’t get any of that tonight.”

The husband of Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, who was gunned down as she vacuumed her van at a Maryland gas station, said that when he watched Muhammad’s chest moving for the last time, he was glad.

“I feel better. I think I can breathe better,” said Nelson Rivera. “I’m glad he’s gone because he’s not going to hurt anyone else.”

Meanwhile, a small group of death penalty opponents stood on the grass outside the prison holding a sign that read: “We remember the victims, but not with more killing.”

According to Msgr. Stuart Swetland, of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, the Catholic Church teaches that taking a life is only permissible in self-defense or when someone is a threat to society. Those who are incarcerated with no possibility of parole, such as in Muhammad’s case, are no longer considered to be a threat to society.

The taking of a life through execution by the state should be particularly disconcerting for a Christian, he told the Frederick News Post after Muhammad’s execution.

“There is nothing wrong from a legal perspective in making a legal judgment,” he said, “but two things — final judgment and vengeance — are to be left to God.”

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1. The death penalty violates which commandment? (see Article 5 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, available here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm )

2. What Scriptures are the source of Church teaching against murder? (See Genesis 4: 8-12; Exodus 20:13; Cf. Deut. 5:17)

3. In his landmark encyclical, Evangelum Vitae, Pope John Paul II said that while the Church continues to maintain that legitimate state authorities have an obligation to protect society from aggressors, which includes the use of capital punishment, other options make the carrying out of such a punishment “very rare if practically nonexistent.” How was the Catechism of the Catholic Church changed to reflect this more updated view? (Visit an explanation of these changes at  http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/criminal/catechism.shtml )

4. What does the Church consider to be legitimate forms of defense? (See Nos. 2263-2266 at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm

5. Is one guilty of murder if working for a state or health care provider that orders the killing of human persons either through embryonic research or eugenic abortions that terminate the life of unborn children with disabilities? (See No. 2268 in http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm )

6. Many people consider the death penalty to be “justice” for particularly heinous crimes. For a better understanding of how the Church defines justice, read No. 1807 available here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a7.htm. For a better understanding of the Church’s position on social justice, read Nos. 1928 -1933 available here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c2a3.htm

7. Take a moment to reflect on your own personal opinion about the death penalty. Is it in keeping with what the Church teaches? Is the desire for revenge influencing your opinion in any way? How has Church teaching on the virtue of justice changed the way you regard the use of the death penalty?

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