- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

MANASSAS A judge yesterday set a trial date of Oct. 14 for sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad and set aside eight weeks for the trial.
Prince William County Circuit Judge Leroy F. Millette Jr. also denied a request from broadcasters asking to televise the proceedings, saying such coverage could compromise the suspect's right to a fair trial, which prosecutors estimated would last at least a month.
Mr. Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, are suspects in 13 sniper attacks in the Washington area in October, 10 of them fatal, and in eight other shootings across the country.
The two are charged with capital murder in two of the fatal shootings Mr. Muhammad in Prince William County in the killing of Dean Harold Meyers, a Gaithersburg man who was shot while refueling his car Oct. 9; and Mr. Malvo in Fairfax County in the Oct. 14 shooting of Linda Franklin at the Home Depot in Falls Church.
The teenager's court-appointed guardian is preparing for a Jan. 14 preliminary hearing at which a judge is expected to determine whether he will be tried as an adult and face the death penalty.
The prosecutors and defense attorneys had opposed the broadcasters' motion for TV cameras. Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said the coverage would detract from courtroom decorum.
Mr. Ebert also said his experience with the televised Lorena Bobbitt penis-slashing trial convinced him that TV cameras are a problem.
"The court well knows that at one point in time I had no objection to live coverage, but I've changed my mind based on personal experience," he said. "Witnesses, for lack of a better word, tend to ham it up."
Barbara Van Gelder, representing the Radio-Television News Directors Association, disputed the comparison between this case and Lorena Bobbitt's. "This is not a celebrity matter," she said. "This is not a salacious matter."
Judge Millette sided with prosecutors and defense attorneys. He will allow a still camera on a day-to-day basis.
Defense attorneys Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro had objected to that, while Mr. Ebert did not.
Mr. Greenspun also said during the hearing that he wants to have the trial in Prince William County and hopes not to seek a change of venue.
Virginia's speedy-trial rules would have required a trial date of April 7 or earlier for Mr. Muhammad, but Mr. Greenspun last month asked the court to delay setting a date so he could have more time to prepare.
Mr. Greenspun and Mr. Shapiro had argued in court papers that TV cameras could lead to saturated media coverage that would taint the jury pool and deny Mr. Muhammad the right to a fair trial.
"Although an extensive, legitimate public interest exists in this case, and it is understandable that the public might want to watch this trial, the court cannot ignore the constitutional rights of the accused," the attorneys wrote.
The news directors' association said Virginia law put the burden on Mr. Ebert and Mr. Greenspun to show good cause for banning the cameras.
"The right of a public trial belongs not only to the accused, but to the public as well," Miss Van Gelder wrote in the motion seeking courtroom camera access.

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