- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

MANASSAS — Prince William County prosecutors told a judge yesterday they now want the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad moved out of the area.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert, who initially opposed a change of venue, told Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. that it would be inconsistent to keep the trial in Manassas, given that the trial of fellow sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo will be moved to Chesapeake in southeastern Virginia.

“I think a change of venue would be proper in this case,” Mr. Ebert told Judge Millette at a pre-trial hearing yesterday.

Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett rejected Mr. Muhammad’s bid to delay the release of former Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose’s book on the sniper investigation. Judge Bennett ruled Tuesday that Mr. Muhammad’s motion was moot since Mr. Moose had dropped his federal lawsuit earlier that day.

In May, Mr. Moose sued the Montgomery County Ethics Commission after it ruled that he could not write his book. Last month, Mr. Moose quit his job so he could go ahead with the project. He settled the dispute with the ethics commission Tuesday and dropped his lawsuit.

Mr. Moose’s book, titled “Three Weeks in October,” is expected to be released less than a month before the start of Mr. Muhammad’s trial. Advertisements indicate that the book will give readers the inside story on the investigation.

Mr. Muhammad’s attorneys have argued that the book would compromise the case and make it more difficult to get an impartial jury. Mr. Muhammad’s attorney, Peter D. Greenspun, said yesterday he didn’t know if his team would make any more attempts to delay the book.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and Mr. Malvo, 18, have been linked to the series of sniper shootings that left 10 dead and three injured in the Washington area last October. Mr. Muhammad is charged with the Oct. 9 killing of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, outside a gas station in Manassas. Mr. Malvo is charged with the Oct. 14 killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside the Home Depot in Falls Church.

Both face a possible death penalty.

Last week, Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush moved Mr. Malvo’s trial to Chesapeake, a city about 200 miles away from Fairfax County. His trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 10.

Yesterday, Judge Millette told Mr. Ebert and Mr. Muhammad’s attorneys that he was not ready to rule on the defense’s motion for a change of venue. He said he would rule on the matter soon.

Mr. Muhammad’s trial is set to begin Oct. 14.

Mr. Ebert said he changed his mind about a change of venue when Judge Roush moved Mr. Malvo’s trial. “In light of Judge Roush’s ruling, … it would be improper to say Fairfax County is not the place to have a trial but Prince William is,” he said.

Mr. Ebert said he still believes that an impartial jury could be seated in Manassas. “I still believe that in this jurisdiction you could get a fair trial,” he said.

Mr. Malvo’s defense attorney Michael S. Arif, who attended yesterday’s hearing, told reporters that if Judge Millette moves the trial, he should move it to an area close to Chesapeake. Mr. Arif suggested Portsmouth, a city about five miles west of Chesapeake.

Mr. Ebert’s support of a venue change was partly an attempt to preempt the defense team’s motion to dismiss one of the capital murder counts against Mr. Muhammad that is based on the state’s new anti-terrorism law. The law, passed after the September 11 attacks, defines terrorism in part as an attempt to intimidate the civilian population.

Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro argued it would be a legal impossibility to seat an impartial jury when the entire jury pool is considered a victim under the language of the statute.

“How do you provide a jury from a pool of people who are all potential targets? It’s our position that you can’t,” Mr. Shapiro argued.

“The jury is going to carry the baggage of what happens in October with them. It’s too much of a burden to carry.”

Judge Millette denied the motion, agreeing with Mr. Ebert that the defense’s definition of “population at-large” was too broad.

“Not everybody was intimidated. Not everybody was a victim,” Mr. Ebert argued.

Judge Millette also asked Mr. Shapiro why a change of venue wouldn’t be a better solution to avoid a tainted jury pool.

“I don’t think the statute is limited to Prince William County,” Mr. Shapiro replied. “The population at large could include the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.”

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