Students reflect on death penalty for D.C. sniper
November 13, 2009
John Allen Muhammad, one of the D.C. snipers, was executed by lethal injection Tuesday evening. His execution sparked different emotional reactions among students across campus.
Rob Greene ’12 was in seventh grade when the 2002 D.C. sniper attacks began. Like many students at the College of William and Mary, Greene hails from Northern Virginia and vividly remembers the three weeks when Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, killed 10 people and injured three others in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and along Interstate-95.
According to Greene, most people thought it was another terrorist attack when the shooting started. Schools began taking precautions, and day-to-day activities changed.
“There wasn’t outside recess,” he said. “At my middle school, in order to go from indoor recess to the gym, there was this pathway. They had garbage bags hanging down so you wouldn’t see the kids in it. They had people at the gas stations, volunteers filling up gas for people, because people didn’t want to get out of their cars. It was pretty crazy, looking back at it, especially when it happened.”
Life for Justine di Giovanni ’11, also from Northern Virginia, was affected by the shootings as well.
“Everyone saying, ‘you know, he’s driving around in a white van,’” she said. “And so every time you saw a white van you’d zigzag a little bit. I didn’t think about it all the time, but it was definitely on my mind.”
Around two weeks into the shootings, Greene and his family were shopping at a store when the two snipers shot and killed a woman in a Home Depot parking lot down the street. The woman was walking to her car with her husband.
“We get back home, turn on the TV, and the next thing we know, we see where we just were. That woman just got killed right there,” Greene said. “I didn’t see it actually happen, but [the hooters] were definitely there at the same time I was. We were on the same side of the street. That’s the creepy part. It was one of those ‘holy crap, that was a bit too close,’ type of things.”
Even now, when he visits that Home Depot, Greene is reminded of the event.
“It’s still weird when you walk by it,” he said. “That’s our local Home Depot. I go there all the time. It’s just that I know exactly where that woman was shot.”
After three weeks of searching, Muhammad and Malvo were caught while asleep in their car. Muhammad was sentenced to death in 2003.
Malvo, a minor at the time of the shootings, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Muhammad’s execution brought mixed reactions around campus.
“Honestly, my heart really goes out to everyone who was affected,” Group Coordinator of Amnesty International Walter Hickey ’12 said. “To all the victims and all the families, I absolutely feel terrible about all of it.”
Standing out in the rain Tuesday night, Catholic Campus Ministries and Amnesty International held a candlelight vigil in protest of Muhammad’s execution.
“We’re not trying to mitigate what he did,” Hickey said,“But we’ve got to stand against the death penalty. It’s a violation of human rights, no matter how you look at it. We think that he should have been put away for life without parole.”
Di Giovanni, who also opposes the death penalty, would have preferred that Muhammad receive help through therapy. She hopes that Malvo will be given counseling in order to understand the severity of his
“I understand the need that people have for retribution,” she said. “But I think that the death penalty makes an assumption about human nature, that there’s no way to make people better, to improve them. And I don’t think that’s true. I’m relatively optimistic about people and I’d rather see him trying to be helped in some way as a person, rather than just being snuffed out.”
Others, like Greene, were glad to see Muhammad executed, describing him as a dangerous man. Greene wished Malvo had received the same sentence.
“I think that he definitely deserved to die,” Greene said. “I think that if you have that little regard for human life and if you commit acts like that, then you’re definitely a threat to the community. He’s just someone who shouldn’t be breathing the same air as everyone else.”