- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

Attorneys for sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad yesterday requested that next week’s pretrial hearing be closed to the press and the public, so they can argue for the suppression of information they say will jeopardize a fair trial by an impartial jury.

“The matters to be raised have no business in this trial, not only because they are immaterial and irrelevant, but also because they will have an improper influence on the jury,” defense attorneys Jonathan Shapiro and Peter Greenspun wrote.

Mr. Shapiro declined to comment on what information they want suppressed. He and Mr. Greenspun also filed, under seal, a proposed list of questions to be asked of potential jurors.

Before next Wednesday’s hearing, the attorneys for the elder sniper suspect will file a motion in limine, which in Latin means “on the doorstep,” Mr. Shapiro said. In limine motions usually argue to keep evidence or testimony out of a trial.

Prince William County Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. could rule on the defense motion at the hearing or decide to wait until the trial starts, prosecutors said.

“If the judge can’t decide, there may be a motion to keep either party from mentioning the evidence or testimony until the judge decides,” said James A. Willett, Prince William assistant commonwealth’s attorney.

“They feel that if this information gets into the public domain, it will be very prejudicial to their client,” said Joseph Bowman, a Northern Virginia lawyer with capital murder trial experience.

In the motion for a closed hearing, defense attorneys said potential jurors should not be exposed to the information discussed for the same reason Judge Millette moved the trial from Prince William to Virginia Beach. Public scrutiny of the case has grown so strong that residents of Virginia Beach are paying close attention, they said.

“Virginia Beach media … now cover, in person, hearings in the Prince William County Circuit Court,” they wrote. “The jury pool is not insulated by distance from the effects of continuous press coverage. As trial draws closer, it is reasonable to predict such coverage will only intensify.”

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and fellow sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, have been charged with the 13 random sniper shootings that left 10 dead and 3 wounded last fall in the Washington area.

Mr. Muhammad is charged with the Oct. 9 slaying of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. Mr. Malvo is charged with the Oct. 14 killing of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Home Depot store in Falls Church.

The older suspect’s trial begins Oct. 14. Mr. Malvo’s Nov. 10 trial has been moved from Fairfax County to Chesapeake.

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