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Trial of Sniper Suspect on Track to Start Monday

Potential jurors are quizzed about the death penalty, and more than half are tentatively seated in the case against John Allen Muhammad.

October 17, 2003|From Associated Press

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — More than half the people needed to complete a jury in the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad had been selected Thursday, and the prosecutor said opening statements and testimony could begin Monday.

Potential jurors were quizzed Thursday about their views on the death penalty, their exposure to pretrial news accounts and whether they felt terrorized by the sniper spree that killed 10 people over a three-week period last fall.

The defense had expected jury selection to be difficult because of the intense publicity surrounding the Washington-area attacks, but three days into jury selection, four men and 11 women had been qualified to serve.

The judge must qualify a panel of 27. Then, prosecutors and defense attorneys can each strike six prospective jurors, for nearly any reason they choose, leaving a jury of 12 plus three alternates.

Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. on Thursday rejected a defense request to reconsider his decision to qualify one jury finalist picked Wednesday.

Defense lawyer Jonathan Shapiro said he was concerned because the woman said she would not be inclined to give much consideration to Muhammad's family history in deciding if he deserves the death penalty, saying that "childhood shouldn't affect what you're doing now."

"She has written off an entire class of mitigation evidence," Shapiro said.

Millette said that the woman could be a fair juror.

Muhammad is charged in the slaying of 53-year-old Dean Harold Meyers, who was shot in the head as he stood at a gas station near Manassas, Va.

The trial was moved about 200 miles to southeastern Virginia after defense lawyers argued that every northern Virginia resident could be considered a victim because the shootings caused widespread fear.

Prosecutor Paul Ebert said he expected opening statements in the trial to begin Monday.

Most potential jurors who were questioned reported limited exposure to news coverage of the attacks and the case against Muhammad, 42, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, who goes on trial separately Nov. 10 in neighboring Chesapeake in the slaying of an FBI analyst.

A lawyer for Malvo said his client has been subpoenaed to appear at Muhammad's trial. Malvo invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at a pretrial hearing in Muhammad's case but is not protected from being ordered to appear in the courtroom, attorney Michael Arif told the Washington Post.

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