For anyone who lived in or around Washington, D.C. in October 2002, it was a time of fear.
Even though an airplane had stuck the Pentagon a little more than a year beforehand, the fear of terrorism didn’t come from far away from the Middle East.
It didn’t come from living in an area that was an obvious target because it was the nation’s capital.
It came from doing tasks so ordinary that most of us don’t even give them a second thought such as filling up the car or going the grocery store.
During that month John Allen Muhammad and teen Lee Boyd Malvo stalked residents of D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland with sniper rifles with random and reckless abandon.
All told 10 people died.
Malvo is serving life in prison without hope for parole.
Muhammad had a Nov.10 execution date set for him by a judge in suburban Prince William County on Wednesday for the murder of Dean Meyers at a Manassas gas station.
I lived and worked in Prince William County for a few years before moving in 1999. In 2002, I recall being in contact with friends and family in the area during the shooting. The concern for personal well-being was palpable.
In a little more than a month Muhammad will be executed barring appeals to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and the U.S. Supreme Court which are highly likely to fall on deaf ears.
The execution will take place at the Greenville Correctional Center in Jarratt, a small town near the North Carolina border. This, too, is a place I’m familiar with.
On Dec. 3, 1996, I witnessed the execution of Gregory Warren Beaver at the prison while on assignment for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Beaver was sentenced for murdering a state trooper during a traffic stop near the state capital, Richmond. The killing of a police officer instantly makes the murder a capital offense, commonplace in states where the death penalty is legal.
I still vividly remember watching the execution, seeing Beaver strapped to a gurney, arms outstretched. It is not much different than watching someone fall asleep with the notable exceptions of a brief seizing of the muscles and the halt in the rise and fall of the chest.
Beforehand I was filled with the anticipation that seeing an execution first-hand would provide me with a clear sense of being strongly in favor or opposed to the death penalty.
It’s never happened, and I don’t say that to be callous or rude.
The main feeling I came away with which I still hold to this day is that the death penalty should be used judiciously and sparingly for the most egregious cases. This is borne out by Illinois’ moratorium on the death penalty stemming from vast abuses in the adjudication of such cases in the state.
Does the murder of a police officer under any circumstances cross that line?
Does the domestic terrorism purported by Muhammad and Oklahoma City federal building bombing mastermind Timothy McVeigh – who was executed in federal prison in June 2001 – cross that line?
I welcome your commentary and I will close by saying this: On the evening of Nov. 10 after the execution is carried out I don’t plan to raise a toast nor shed a tear.