- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

A Prince William County judge yesterday rejected a request from sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad’s attorneys to hire a jury consultant to help them screen potential jurors.

Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. also denied a defense request for extra peremptory challenges during the jury-selection process. However, the judge granted two additional challenges to the customary four, because of the three alternate jurors who will be used in addition to the jury of 12 men and women.

Defense attorneys had argued that the unique circumstances of the case — especially the extensive pretrial publicity — made it necessary to have an expert to help with questioning of the jury pool. Prosecutors said a jury consultant is an unnecessary extravagance.

Judge Millette agreed with prosecutors. “The court is confident of the extensive experience of lawyers at both tables,” he said during yesterday’s hearing. “Jury selection is certainly a skill that attorneys develop.”

Judge Millette said he was not opposed to individual interviews with potential jurors, but wanted defense attorneys to inform him what questions they planned to ask.

The judge also granted Mr. Muhammad’s defense team a two-week extension on when the attorneys must give notice of any mental health issues they plan to raise as part of their defense.

Mr. Muhammad’s attorney, Jonathan Shapiro, argued that mental health experts need to conduct tests on their client outside the jail at Prince William Hospital.

Prosecutors had argued that no extension was necessary and that the defense team should have been barred from offering a mental health defense because they missed last week’s deadline.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, have been linked to the string of random sniper shootings that left 10 dead and three injured in the Washington area last October. Mr. Muhammad is charged with the Oct. 9 fatal shooting of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a gas station in Manassas. Mr. Malvo is charged with the Oct. 14 fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church.

Mr. Malvo’s Nov. 10 trial has been moved from Fairfax County to Chesapeake.

At yesterday’s hearing, prosecutors argued that Mr. Muhammad’s attorneys were trying to secure special privileges by claiming that their client’s trial is more serious or more important than other capital-murder trials.

“There is a troubling theme that runs through all the defense’s motions,” argued James A. Willet, Prince William County assistant commonwealth’s attorney. “They have said, ‘This case is above all others.’ It is not. It is no more serious than any that have come before this court. … It is not the office of this court to tailor the criminal procedure as this defendant has frequently asked the court to do.”

Mr. Shapiro denied that his team was asking for special privileges. Their requests, he argued, were “driven by the nature of this case — the enormous publicity and the enormous scope” of its effect.

“We’re bringing the court’s attention to those things,” he said. “We just want our best chance to have the best jury we can.”

Judge Millette told prosecutors and defense attorneys that he was not treating this case any differently.

“The court is not affording special treatment to Mr. Muhammad,” Judge Millette said. “The only thing that makes this case different is the intense media attention. We do have to take that into consideration.”

Mr. Shapiro had asked to hire Charlottesville consultant Jeffrey Frederick at taxpayer expense to help with selection of a jury for Mr. Muhammad’s capital-murder trial. The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 14 in Virginia Beach. Mr. Frederick is currently helping in the defense of terrorist suspect Zacarias Moussaoui.

Judge Millette said 120 prospective jurors will be called when Mr. Muhammad’s trial begins. Jurors will then be split up into groups of 40, where they will fill out questionnaires. They will then be pared down to a group of 27. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will have six challenges each, which will narrow the group to its final number of 15, which includes three alternates.

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