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Judge M. Langhorne Keith dismissed capital-murder charges against sniper John Allen Muhammad in the shooting of a female FBI employee in a Home Depot parking lot, because he said prosecutors waited to long to bring him to trial, under Virginia's speedy trial law.

Muhammad received a death sentence in an earlier murder trial in Virginia, but prosecutors wanted another trial in case the first conviction is overturned on appeal. Muhammad can still be tried in other states, including Maryland.

Virginia law requires that a defendant be tried within five months of arrest, unless he waves his right to a speedy trial. Muhammad's original trial date for the murder of Linda Franklin was Oct. 4, 2003. Prosecutors and defense attorneys disagreed on the actual arrest date of Muhammad.

Splitting Hairs

Prosecutors said Muhammad was not formally arrested until May 27, 2003, on a warrant issued after he was taken into custody following the sniper spree. The defense claimed the speedy-trial countdown began Jan. 6, 2003, when police faxed copies of the indictment to the jail where Muhammad was being held.

Incredibly, Judge Keith ruled that the January fax "constitutes an arrest for speedy trial purposes even if no formal arrest has been made."

See also: Va. Judge Drops Murder Charges Vs. Sniper
Judge Tosses DC Sniper Indictment

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