Virginia Charges Sniper Suspects

Virginia officials filed the state's first murder charges against the sniper suspects Monday, and a prosecutor said the teenager in custody may have killed an FBI analyst during the spree.

Fairfax County prosecutor Robert Horan Jr. said there is ``an equal possibility'' that John Lee Malvo, 17, or John Allen Muhammad, 41, gunned down analyst Linda Franklin outside a Home Depot on Oct. 14 in Fairfax.

``There will be some evidence that the juvenile was the shooter just like there will be evidence that the adult was the shooter,'' Horan said. ``But the point is, we don't know right now, and no one knows right now.''

The pair was charged in Spotsylvania County with the murder of Kenneth Bridges on Oct. 11 and the wounding of an unidentified woman Oct. 4. Both shootings were part of the three-week string of attacks that left 10 dead and three others wounded in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Muhammad was indicted on charges of capital murder, conspiracy to commit capital murder, attempted capital murder, aggravated malicious wounding and use of a firearm in a felony.

Malvo was charged with the same offenses in juvenile court but authorities will seek to have his case transferred to adult court at a hearing Friday.

The indictment comes as county, state and federal prosecutors in multiple jurisdictions work to figure out who should bring the two men to trial first.

The suspects already face six murder charges in Maryland and capital murder charges in Alabama in connection with a fatal robbery there last month. They also could be charged with federal extortion and murder counts that could bring the death penalty.

Prosecutors in Virginia say they could win death sentences against both suspects. In Maryland, 17-year-olds are not eligible for the death penalty.

Montgomery County, Md., prosecutor Douglas Gansler told the AP on Sunday that he still believes his state should prosecute the case first, but ``we're open to discussions with all the jurisdictions.''

Gansler acknowledged that the toughest sentence Malvo could get in Maryland would be life without parole, but argued that his state has the strongest case because it suffered the most fatalities.

The top elected official in Montgomery County urged prosecutors to choose the strongest venue.

``They need to present a unified front to the public and say: 'Here's how we're going to handle this,' and wherever the case is strongest with the stiffest penalties, that's where they need to go,'' County Executive Douglas Duncan said.

Virginia has executed 86 people since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, more than any state but Texas. In the same period, Maryland has executed three people and is one of two states with a moratorium on executions.

Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore has left the decision to local prosecutors on what charges his state will seek, a spokesman said Sunday. Kilgore has urged that Virginia have the first chance to try the case because it can more easily apply the death penalty.

``The key is still that the federal government not indict before Virginia to preclude our prosecution,'' said the spokesman, Tim Murtaugh. ``It's key to act now.''

A Justice Department source said Prince William County, Va., was also expected to file capital murder charges against Muhammad as early as Monday. Accessory or aiding and abetting counts were expected for Malvo, while prosecutors consider the evidence for bringing a death-penalty case against him, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Prince William prosecutor Paul Ebert did not return calls seeking comment.

Federal law enforcement authorities are reviewing possible charges relating to extortion and murder that might allow for all the shootings to be combined in a single case and would allow for the death penalty on conviction, the official said. Letters left behind in the sniper slayings demanded $10 million.

Also Monday, Hanover County, Va., prosecutor Kirby Porter said Muhammad was indicted on seven counts in the wounding of a man outside a steakhouse restaurant Oct. 19. Porter said that the same charges were filed against Malvo in juvenile court and he will also seek to have the case transferred.

The unidentified victim had improved Monday from critical to stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.