- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad yesterday agreed to allow three Baltimore lawyers to act as standby attorneys in his upcoming Montgomery County trial in six of the 2002 Washington-area sniper shootings.

The decision by Muhammad, who is representing himself, means he will have legal advice available if he requests it during the trial that begins Monday. He previously fired his court-appointed attorneys and rebuffed a request by Montgomery County Circuit Judge James Ryan that he reconsider.

The lawyers said after a hearing yesterday that they planned to meet with Muhammad later to try to gauge the case and what role they would play.

As standby counsel, they can give advice only when Muhammad seeks it and can’t speak in court. But if Muhammad can’t represent himself, the team would become his attorneys.

J. Wyndal Gordon, A. Jai Bonner and Russell A. Neverdon Sr. said they took the case because Muhammad has a right to legal help despite his notoriety.

After watching the hearing, Mr. Gordon said Muhammad formed coherent arguments despite his lack of legal training and questions about his mental health.

“I was impressed,” Mr. Gordon said. “He definitely is not intimidated by the system.”

Muhammad and accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo were accused of 10 killings and three woundings in the Washington region during the October 2002 sniper spree and linked to shootings in other states.

In earlier trials, Muhammad was sentenced to die in Virginia and Malvo was given a life term.

Prosecutors said the new Montgomery County trials are insurance if the Virginia verdicts are overturned.

Yesterday, Judge Ryan agreed to let the court clerk issue 28 subpoenas from a list of 178 persons that Muhammad wants to call in his defense.

But the judge ordered Muhammad to provide more information about the others, many of whom have little apparent relevance to the case.

They include a woman who said she saw Muhammad in New Jersey 10 days after his arrest and a sheriff deputy assigned to the detail that transports the defendant to court.

The list that Judge Ryan approved also has some people who likely know little about the case, such as a woman who lived next door to an apartment searched by police that yielded nothing.

Muhammad refused to provide information about the importance of the witnesses, saying that to do so would reveal too much about his planned defense to prosecutors.

He rambled as he tried to explain his reasoning, quoting the U.S. Constitution and even former first lady Nancy Reagan.

“They are fishing, they are trying to figure out why Muhammad wants these witnesses,” he said of prosecutor objections to his list.

Assistant State’s Attorney Vivek Chopra accused Muhammad of employing stall tactics to stretch out the case.

“The defense is trying to grind this proceeding today and this trial to a halt,” he said.

Muhammad also submitted his proposed list of questions for potential jurors.

They include queries on legal beliefs as well as some that seemed to have little to do with the case, such as whether jurors think students should wear uniforms.

Muhammad said he hoped to present jurors with a list of 76 words, such as “hearsay” and “brainwash,” to measure their reactions.

“When I ask questions about words, it gives me a different type of understanding pertaining to the person,” he explained.

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