Hoping for 'justice' tonight for sniper
It began in Wheaton with a single gunshot. James D. Martin, 55, had stopped off at a Shoppers Food Warehouse on his way home when, for no apparent reason, an unseen assailant shot and killed him.

The next morning, four others in Montgomery County were killed while doing mundane activities - pumping gas, mowing a lawn, sitting on a bench, vacuuming a minivan. A sixth victim fell that night in Washington near the county line.

Over three terrifying weeks in October 2002, the so-called Beltway Sniper fatally shot 10 people in the Washington region, ratcheting up anxiety levels all the way from Baltimore to Richmond.

"You never knew when and where the next shot would come, and it was so random," said former Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, recalling a time when schools went into lockdown, motorists eyed white box trucks suspiciously and people felt nervous just pumping gas.

Relief came only after police arrested John Allen Muhammad and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, at a Frederick-area rest stop Oct. 24, 2002.

Tonight at 9, Muhammad is scheduled to die for one of those 10 killings, that of Dean Meyers at a gas station in Manassas, Va. Prison officials in Virginia say he will be executed by lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a bid on Monday by Muhammad to stop the execution.

"I think it's justice," Duncan said. "I think he deserves it."

Though seven years have passed since the sniper attacks, vivid memories remain seared into the area's collective psyche.

"Every citizen, at some time or another, felt they might be the next person in the cross hairs of the sniper," said Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, then Montgomery County state's attorney.

After Muhammad and Malvo were arrested, it emerged that the pair had spent time in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood, visiting a Subway restaurant and sleeping in their 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.

One day, Muhammad visited rare-book dealer Teresa Johanson at her shop not far away on 25th Street, asking whether she had any books in Arabic. "He had a certain intensity and a look in his eyes," she recalled Monday.

Johanson located a volume of lyric poetry in Farsi by a 14th-century poet named Hafiz. Muhammad told her he wanted to buy the book as a gift but left without making a purchase, she remembers.

"I want to thank you for all the trouble," he said on his way out. Johanson realized who he was after seeing his face on television.

When witnesses reported spotting white box trucks at sniper shootings, police began focusing on the ubiquitous work vehicles. So did the public. Alison Cuomo of Columbia recalled her panic as she drove to work in Washington and, stuck at a red light, realized she was surrounded by white box trucks.

"I'm sitting at the intersection, saying, 'Turn green, light, turn green,' " she said. "You suddenly have this massive paranoia when you see them."

For Cuomo, it became a "struggle" merely to be outdoors. "I thought twice about going to a pumpkin patch, which is silly," said the 34-year-old Web editor. "But you couldn't help question every move you were making. You had no idea when they were going to strike next."

Filling stations took on a sinister air after sniper victims were shot while pumping gas. Some people adopted survivalist tactics, Duncan said. They would insert the nozzle in their tank, then lie flat on the seats or floorboards until the tank was full.

Duncan, as county executive, was involved in efforts to catch the killer or killers. But he, too, was scared.

"I moved pretty quickly when I was walking places," he said. "Part of my job was to be out in the public and reassure the public that things were safe and we needed to keep doing our normal routine."