Q: Why was the Washington sniper John Allen Muhammad executed so quickly, when it takes some prisoners many more years before being executed?

— Carolyn Sanders, Atlanta

A: The Christian Science Monitor reported that Muhammad’s 68 months between sentencing and execution was about half the typical duration for death-penalty cases. Its analysis of 2007 Bureau of Justice Statistics data found that it takes an average of 153 months between sentencing and execution.

One factor was the speed of which these cases are handled in Virginia, where former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft sent Muhammad and his accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo to be tried. David Bruck, director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Va., told the paper that Virginia Supreme Court hears appeals rapidly.

Another factor was that many of the problems that lead to reversals and delays in death penalty cases in any state arise from the fact that many defendants suffer from severely inadequate representation, which can lead to questions over determinations of guilt and imposing the death penalty, Anne S. Emanuel, a law professor at Georgia State University, told Q&A on the News. High-profile defendants like Muhammad are far more likely to be well represented at trial, she said.

Lori Johnston wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or e-mail q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).

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