- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

MANASSAS — Prosecutors will likely be required to turn over to defense attorneys the names of witnesses who were able to identify sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad out of a photo lineup, a judge ruled yesterday. The witnesses cannot directly link Mr. Muhammad to the Oct. 9 fatal shooting of Dean Meyers, 53, outside a Manassas-area gas station. But they are expected to testify about the suspect’s general whereabouts during last October’s string of random shootings that left 10 persons dead and three injured across the Washington metropolitan area. Before yesterday’s ruling, prosecutors only turned over information about two witnesses who could not identify Mr. Muhammad out of a photo lineup. Because such information could be potentially helpful to the defense, prosecutors are required to provide it. Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. ordered prosecutors to provide defense attorneys with details about the procedures used in the photo lineup. If at that point the defense team still has questions about the procedures — which is likely — prosecutors must give the defense the names of those witnesses. Defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun said he needs the information to prepare an adequate defense and that waiting until the trial begins to turn over such information could result in unnecessary delays. Before yesterday’s ruling, prosecutors were reluctant to turn over the information on witnesses who identified Mr. Muhammad. Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said some witnesses “have made it clear that they don’t want to talk and they’ve continued to be contacted. That’s harassment,” Mr. Ebert told the judge. Mr. Greenspun defended his team against Mr. Ebert’s charges of harassment. “It’s absurd and insulting and uncalled for,” he told reporters after the hearing. Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro argued that their attempts to track down witnesses have been stymied by limited resources and uncooperative witnesses. He said that several of the 13 witnesses, whose names have been turned over, had been evasive or refused to talk to anyone except for law-enforcement agents. “We shouldn’t have to play games about this,” Mr. Shapiro told the judge. “If the commonwealth has statements that are exculpatory, they should be turned over to us.” Prince William County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard A. Conway said prosecutors had gone through “mountains and mountains” of court documents to find exculpatory evidence they could turn over. “We felt we did a positive thing and to come in and hear we’re not taking an interest in justice is frustrating for us,” Mr. Conway argued. Mr. Muhammad, 42, and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, have been linked to the 13 sniper shootings. Mr. Malvo is charged with the Oct. 14 fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church. Each man is charged with two counts of capital murder — one for a specific victim and one under the state’s new antiterrorism law, which was passed after the September 11 attacks to target “evil masterminds.” If convicted, each could face the death penalty. Both trials have been moved to cities in southeastern Virginia. Mr. Muhammad’s Oct. 14 trial has been moved from Prince William County to Virginia Beach. Mr. Malvo’s Nov. 10 trial has been moved from Fairfax County to Chesapeake. At yesterday’s hearing, Judge Millette also ruled that prosecutors must provide any potentially exculpatory information contained in 23 pages of police interviews of people who knew the suspect when he lived in Washington state. Mr. Muhammad’s attorneys argued the interviews contain information that could bolster the argument that Mr. Malvo acted of his own accord during the shooting spree. They cited arguments made last month by Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who unsuccessfully argued in his case that the 23 pages were not exculpatory for Mr. Malvo. In one instance, Mr. Horan cited a witness from Tacoma, Wash., named Earl Lee Dancy, who told investigators that “Muhammad can’t shoot worth a lick,” while Mr. Malvo is a good shooter. Mr. Muhammad’s prosecutors contend that he was the “moving spirit” behind the shootings and that he brainwashed Mr. Malvo. The judge also denied a request from defense attorneys to conduct a daylong evidentiary hearing on the constitutionality of the death penalty. The attorneys provided a 6-inch stack of documents they said proves the Virginia death penalty has been applied unevenly, and they wanted to call witnesses to bolster their case. Mr. Conway argued the law is settled and that the judge does not need to hear testimony on the issue. “It is not incumbent on this court to provide Mr. Muhammad a forum for his antideath penalty experts to support his views,” he argued, questioning why “[Mr. Muhammad] thinks he’s entitled to expanded rights, more than any capital defendant has ever had.” • This article is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide