Brooklyn Students Worked Behind the Scenes in Sniper Case

Law School Students Tried To Save Convicted Killer

By Andrew Siff
|  Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009  |  Updated 5:45 PM EDT
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Brooklyn Law Students Work on DC Sniper's Appeal

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MANASSAS, VA - MARCH 9: Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad (L) listens to testimony as his attorney Jonathan Shapiro (R) sits next to him prior to being sentenced for the shooting of Dean Meyers at the Prince William County Circuit Court March 9, 2004 in Manassas, Virginia. A Virginia Beach jury convicted Muhammad and recommended the death sentence for his role in the Washington, DC area sniper shootings. (Photo by Steve Helber-Pool/Getty Images)

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Brooklyn Law Students Work on DC Sniper's Appeal

Students at Brooklyn Law School helped to work on convicted DC sniper John Allen Muhammad's appeal before his execution, arguing his rights were cut off.
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Executing prisoners hasn't been an option in New York since 2004-- when a court ruled the state's Death Penalty law was unconstitutional. But New Yorkers are still involved in capital cases.

Take Brooklyn Law School students Sarah White and Michael Debbane. They spent months reading files, doing research, and looking for loopholes to spare a man's life. That man? John Allen Muhammed, the D.C. Sniper.

This Brooklyn team's efforts-- led by Professor Ursele Bentele, who runs the Law school's Capital Cases and Federal Habeas program, were in vain. The sniper, who terrorized much of the country during the 2002 shooting spree that left 10 dead, died from the lethal injection at 9:11pm on Tuesday night in Virginia.

Yet the Brooklyn students-- and their teacher-- say the fight to save Muhammed was critically important. They know it's an uphill battle to convince supporters of the death penalty that a convicted killer should be spared. Especially one who became as notorious as John Allen Muhammed. But they point to a few legal areas that could at least make people think twice.

For one, virtually all death row inmates are allowed a one-year period to seek a federal review. Muhammed only got six months. And the Brooklyn team asks if Muhammed's legal eagles ever properly investigated whether he was sane enough to stand
trial. Typically, the mentally ill in this country are not put to death.

Professor Bentele  and her students gathered all of their arguments and sent them along to Virginia. In the end, no one, not even the Governor, stepped in to stop the execution. Was it worth the effort? White, after a long day in the library, said yes. If no one defends the rights of a death row inmate, she says as a country, "we just become a screaming mob."
 
 

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