It could be argued that during their brief heyday, basically the month of October in 2002, John Allen Muhammad and accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo became the most feared killers in the history of American crime.
Because of their random sniper attacks in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, schools were closed, weekend sports events canceled and motorists became too frightened to pump their own gas.
The pair shot 13 people from hiding between Oct. 2 and Oct. 22, killing 10 of them. The attacks were random, and the bullets seemed to come from nowhere.
It wasn't until fingerprints left at an earlier crime scene in Birmingham, AL were traced to Malvo that police knew what kind of vehicle to watch out for. Not long afterward, Muhammad and Malvo were arrested at an I-70 rest area in Maryland. The blue Chevrolet Caprice they were driving contained a special rear compartment that allowed the two men to shoot from inside.
The car had been purchased on Sept. 11, 2002.
Muhammad, admittedly Malvo's mentor, told authorities that he admired Osama bin Laden and applauded the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Born John Lee Williams in New Orleans, he served seven years in the U.S. Army and achieved the highest level of marksmanship. He also converted to the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad.
He met Malvo, 16, while living in Antigua after his discharge, and the two later lived together in Bellingham, WA. The first of the crimes that earned them the title of "The Beltway Snipers" killed 55-year-old James Martin in Wheaton, MD.
From there, the list of victims included men, women, blacks, whites and Asians. It was that randomness that was most terrifying.
In October of 2003, Muhammad went on trial for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers, the ninth victim, in Manassas, VA. Despite his ideological pronouncements, the prosecution adopted the tact that the shootings were really an extortion plot linked to Muhammad's ex-wife, Mildred.
If that were true, he and Malvo were not on the same page. The latter was planning to participate in a new "pure black nation" in Canada founded with the extortion money.
The prosecution called more than 130 witnesses during the trial, which dragged on for a month. On Nov. 17, 2003, Muhammad was convicted on all four counts against him. The jury recommended the death penalty, a decision affirmed by the trial judge and later the Virginia Supreme Court.
In 2006, Muhammad was convicted of several crimes in Maryland and sentenced to six consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. But Virginia prosecutors have proposed a Nov. 9, 2009 date for his execution.
Malvo was also convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.