The government lawyers filed into the conference room. They helped themselves to the coffee and doughnuts on the table in the back, then took their seats. They did not speak. Moments later, a man entered through a side door and strode briskly to the lectern. He didn't waste time with pleasantries.
"OK, everybody, settle down. As you know, we're here to determine which of the jurisdictions you represent will have the first crack at prosecuting the Washington-area sniper suspects. All this bickering over it in the media has made us look rather silly."
At this, a state's attorney from Maryland stood. "Maybe it's just me," he said, "but I don't understand what the problem is. These guys struck first in my state. It's obvious to me that we should get the first shot, so to speak."
Now the prosecutor from Alabama leapt to his feet. "Beg pardon, fella, but the first killing did NOT happen in your jurisdiction. It happened in mine, remember? Before these guys started shooting up D.C., they botched a robbery in my neck of the woods. Killed one woman, wounded another."
"Excuse me," said the Justice Department lawyer as he rose, "but I think it's pretty clear the federal government's case takes priority here."
All this, the Virginia prosecutor had been watching with a quiet smirk. Now he spoke without standing. "Gentlemen," he said, "when are we going to address the real issue here? It's not whose jurisdiction suffered the most or which one holds priority. The question is, which state should get to execute those sorry sons of female canines? And I think Virginia's record in that regard speaks for itself."
"We can kill 'em just as well as you can!" shouted the Maryland state's attorney.
A laconic chuckle from the Virginia prosecutor. "All due respect, but who do you think you're fooling? Your namby-pamby governor has issued a moratorium on executions. You all would probably do something stupid like giving them life without parole."
The Maryland prosecutor flushed crimson. "How DARE you, sir!"
Virginia was unimpressed. "Sit down, son, you're scaring me. Besides, there's something else. You all also have some gol-dang rule against executing minors. You and the feds both. And one of these suspects is only 17 years old."
"We can get around that," cried the fed.
"We'll doctor the birth certificate," pleaded Maryland. "Come on, let us execute them. We got them first, fair and square."
The Virginia attorney, still chuckling, shook his head. His Alabama colleague fixed him with a hard stare. "Well, I understand why you don't want those weak sisters handling this, but what about us? We ain't exactly squeamish about these things down where I'm from."
The Virginia prosecutor nodded his respect. "No," he admitted, "you're not. But you still don't have the experience my state does. We have a line outside the death chamber. We kill 'em faster than anyplace this side of Texas."
Now the Maryland lawyer was desperate. "Yeah," he said, "well, all you're going to do is give 'em lethal injections, let 'em sleep their way to death. How namby-pamby is that? Give 'em to us and we'll ... we'll ... we'll STONE 'em to death, that's what!"
Virginia made a sound of derision. "Stones? Is that all? Hell, we'll stone 'em, and then run over 'em with a car!"
"Stones, run over 'em with a car, then drop 'em off a cliff!" cried the fed.
"Stones, car, cliff, firing squad!" shouted Alabama.
"Gentlemen," called the man up front, banging on his lectern, "I must insist on some decorum here. Don't worry, you'll each get a chance to kill them."
"No, we won't," said the Maryland attorney, sinking into his chair. "Don't you see? That's the problem. You can only kill 'em once."
"Yeah, you're right," agreed the prosecutor from Virginia with a glum nod. "How unfair is that, son? How totally unfair is that?"