(CNSNews.com) - Federal charges were filed Tuesday in the serial sniper case against John Allen Muhammad, one of two sniper suspects who terrorized the Washington area.
The federal charges, which were filed in Greenbelt, Md. under the Hobbs Act, will allow for the death penalty for extortion of money when murder is involved. A note left by the sniper reportedly demanded $10 million.
Muhammad is charged with 20 counts, including capital murder, use of a firearm that resulted death or injury and interruption of state commerce also resulting in death.
The complaint did not name 17-year-old John Lee Malvo, because he is a juvenile. A federal capital offense for a minor does not allow for the death penalty. Because there is a question about Malvo's real age, the Justice Department plans to wait until he is certified as an adult before bringing charges that might lead to the death penalty.
"This filing today was in the nature of a complaint. Before any trial could be held in the federal system, there has to be an indictment, that's the law," said Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"But the complaint gives us the opportunity to continue the investigation and to make the best determination about what process would best work to bring about the kind of sure and swift justice that we believe this kind of set of facts mandates," he added.
Ashcroft said he believes "the ultimate sanction ought to be available here," because the complaint "alleges the most severe and atrocious of crimes.
But Muhammad's attorneys warned the media and the public not to jump to conclusions and convict Muhammad before a trial has been held.
"Today, you heard the government's allegations against Mr. Muhammad. At this point, you still have not heard any evidence in a court of law against Mr. Muhammad," said public defender Jim Wyda, one of the attorney's representing Muhammad.
The sniper suspect served in the Persian Gulf War, Wyda said, and received an honorable discharge.
"He has never been convicted of another crime at any time, anywhere. Now today, he stands accused of an incomprehensible crime, one that has had a profound impact on our community and has destroyed the lives of good people and innocent families," he said.
"Now today, he stands accused of an incomprehensible crime, one that has had a profound impact on our community and has destroyed the lives of good people and innocent families. What I'm asking you to do at this point is to wait for the process to work," Wyda added.
"Americans understandably have a great deal of pride in our system of justice including its core principles including the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, and the right to a fair trial. What we're asking you to do and asking the public to do is respect that process," he said.
Tuesday's federal court appearance will be followed by a detention hearing at the federal courthouse on Wednesday, according to Wyda, followed by an arraignment where the cases will be scheduled for trial in federal court.
See Earlier Stories:
Montgomery County Will Be First to Prosecute Sniper Suspects (Oct. 25, 2002)
Message from Montgomery, Ala.: We're First To Bring Capital Charges (Oct. 25, 2002)
Pentagon Releases Details of Sniper Suspect's Service (Oct. 24, 2002)