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Defense wants book on sniper case blocked

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Attorneys for sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad said yesterday they will try to stop the publication of former Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose's book about last fall's investigation into the sniper shootings.

The book was expected to discuss Mr. Moose's role as police chief in the investigation into the string of shootings that left 10 persons dead and three others injured in the Washington area in October.

Mr. Moose's book is advertised on Amazon.com Web site as "written from [Mr. Mooses] unique insider perspective." It is scheduled to be released three weeks before Mr. Muhammad's trial begins Oct. 14.

"The prospect of having a book by Chief Moose come out three weeks before the trial is likely to have a big impact on the ability to pick a jury," said Jonathan Shapiro, one of Mr. Muhammad's defense attorneys. "It's a big concern to us, and we're investigating what kind of actions we can take to stop the publication of the book.

"Here's the chief law-enforcement officer talking about what went on in the case. That should be heard in the courtroom," Mr. Shapiro said.

Mr. Shapiro did not specify whether he and fellow defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun planned to file a lawsuit, but he did not rule out the prospect. He said he has been in contact with Mr. Moose's attorneys.

Mr. Moose wrote the book with writer Charles Fleming.

At a hearing on Monday, Mr. Greenspun singled out Mr. Moose's book in his arguments for a change of venue before Prince William Circuit Court Chief Judge Leroy F. Millette Jr. Mr. Greenspun said the book is one of the main reasons the trial should be moved out of the county.

"I know he's said it's about his life, but I bet that the biggest portion is about [the sniper case], because I don't think the members of the community here have much interest in Chief Moose's book except for [the case]," Mr. Greenspun argued.

"He shouldn't be putting that stuff out there before the trial," Mr. Greenspun said, acknowledging that the timing of the book's release makes "marketing sense."

When reached for comment yesterday at the couple's Chevy Chase home, Mr. Moose's wife, Sandy, said the defense attorneys "are welcome to their thoughts."

"They have a tough job ahead of them," Mrs. Moose said.

Mr. Moose, who remained on active duty with the Air Force National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base, and his attorney Ron Karp did not return phone calls yesterday.

Mr. Moose was the chief of police in Montgomery County in October when the 13 sniper attacks occurred. The first five victims were shot and killed in Montgomery County within the span of 18 hours.

Mr. Moose acted as the public face of the three-week-long search for the sniper, holding daily televised briefings to inform members of the community of the police investigation. He was praised for his leadership after Mr. Muhammad and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested.

In January, Mr. Moose signed a deal with New York publisher Dutton Publishing Inc. to write a book to be titled "Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper." Mr. Moose also has sold the story rights to a movie production company, and a made-for-TV movie is expected to air before both cases go to trial.

The book's publication was opposed by Montgomery County's Ethics Commission, which ruled March 20 that the police chief could not profit financially from the prestige of his office, and that the book might endanger the prosecution of the cases.

Mr. Moose filed a lawsuit against the county in May and resigned from his post on June 16.

He received a $174,000 advance by Dutton, and was promised $4 for each book sold. The ethics commission was considering asking Mr. Moose for the profits he earned from the book and movie deals while he served as chief.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, will go on trial for the Oct. 9 shooting of Dean H. Meyers, 53, outside a gas station in Manassas. Mr. Malvo, 18, is being tried in Fairfax County for the Oct. 14 shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot in Falls Church. Mr. Malvo's trial is set for Nov. 10.

Attorneys for both suspects have asked that their trials be moved south or west of the area. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush is expected to rule on Mr. Malvo's request this week. Judge Millette said Monday he would evaluate "logistics and what is available" before ruling on Mr. Muhammad's request.

Both defense teams have based their arguments for a venue change on the publicity about the crimes and the subsequent hearings. The projects and the one-year anniversary of the shootings promise to raise the level of publicity to a fever pitch this fall.

"Simply, without question, the publicity in this case has not simply been substantial and pervasive, but rather overwhelming," Mr. Muhammad's defense attorneys wrote in their change-of-venue request on June 16. They said an Internet search for newspaper articles with the words "sniper" and "Muhammad" came up with 27,000 results.

In addition to Mr. Moose's book and movie, The Washington Post was planning to release a book about the shootings written by two reporters who covered the crimes. That book is scheduled to be released before Mr. Muhammad's trial begins.

However, Mr. Greenspun argued that Mr. Moose's book would be the most damaging to the trial. Mr. Greenspun told Judge Millette that while everyone in the case is working hard to start the trial on time, "the one thing that's going to fly in the face of that is Chief Moose's book, which I really think is going to make it dangerous to get these cases off the ground."

Mr. Moose told the county Ethics Commission in March that he planned to have the prosecutors check the book before it was published. Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert implied in court that he had not seen the manuscript, but downplayed the book's significance.

"We don't know what's going to be in those books," Mr. Ebert said. "We think the jurors would follow the court's instruction and not read the books."

Mr. Moose's 336-page book is already on sale on Amazon.com for $16.77, where it is advertised as a "behind the scenes" look at "the most terrifying three weeks of any month in recent history."

"Now, a year after those horrific events, comes a book by the man whose courage, integrity, and tenacious dedication helped to finally crack the case," the ad reads.