- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo’s trial was moved 200 miles from the D.C. area yesterday after a Fairfax County judge ruled that residents were too traumatized by the shootings last fall to serve as fair and impartial jurors. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Maroum Roush moved Mr. Malvo’s trial to Chesapeake, a city in southeastern Virginia. The scheduled Nov. 10 trial could be postponed as a result. “Many citizens lived in fear during the month of October 2002 as a result of the crimes with which the defendant is charged,” Judge Roush wrote. “I believe the venue should be transferred … outside of the Washington-Richmond corridor.” The ruling upset Chesapeake officials and prosecutors in the case but pleased defense attorneys. “I am disappointed,” said Chesapeake Mayor William E. Ward, who vowed nevertheless to “minimize the impact” of the trial on the city. Mr. Ward, some City Council members and judges expressed opposition to the change last month when Judge Roush visited their city. Though Judge Roush said she was aware of the reasons officials did not want the trial in their city, she called their concerns “not unjustified.” “It is my best judgment that the defendant’s right to a fair trial requires that venue in this case be transferred from Fairfax County,” wrote Judge Roush. She cited more than a dozen newspaper stories about how metropolitan residents had been affected by the shooting spree, which killed 10 persons and injured three. The trial likely will bring Chesapeake a crush of national and international press attention and police activity. At 341 square miles wide, it is slightly smaller than Fairfax County’s 395 square miles. However, its population of 204,000 is one-fifth that of Fairfax, which has nearly 1 million residents. Census data from 2000 show that about 25 percent of Chesapeake residents — about half the percentage in Fairfax — hold bachelor’s degrees. Chesapeake has a higher concentration of blacks — about 29 percent compared with 8.6 percent in Fairfax County. Mr. Malvo’s lead attorney, Michael S. Arif, who is black, had expressed concern that the case might be moved to a jurisdiction with fewer black residents. “We’re very pleased,” said Craig S. Cooley, another of Mr. Malvo’s attorneys. “It gives us an opportunity to have a jury pool that was not personally impacted. … When we move to a jurisdiction where there was not such an impact, people are going to come to trial with more of an open mind.” Mr. Malvo, 18, faces two capital murder charges in connection with the Oct. 14 shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, in Falls Church. John Allen Muhammad, 42, who is suspected of being Mr. Malvo’s partner in the crime spree, is charged with two counts of capital murder for the Oct. 9 shooting of Dean H. Meyers, 53, in Manassas. The two men have been linked to six other shootings around the country, five of them fatal. Mr. Muhammad’s trial date is set for Oct. 14 in Prince Williams County. Robert F. Horan, Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney, said he was surprised by Judge Roush’s decision. “Perhaps I was in denial, but now I’ve got to deal with it,” he said. “I’ve only been doing this for 37 years, and I’ve always thought as fair a jury as you’ll find is in the county of Fairfax. That was my view and the court disagrees with my view, and so we go on from there.” Mr. Horan said the move will create a “logistical nightmare” because both sides will have to establish temporary offices, find housing for themselves and witnesses, and ship physical evidence between the potentially overlapping trials. One legal analyst said the venue change for Mr. Malvo’s trial could lead to a similar move for Mr. Muhammad. “The trial judge’s job is to make sure that whatever happens, it’s a good trial,” said Joseph Bowman, a former Alexandria lawyer who represented several capital murder defendants in Virginia. “I think the prudent action is to grant the defense motion to change venue, and I think [Prince William Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr.] will do that.” Mr. Malvo’s attorneys, Michael S. Arif and Mr. Cooley, said a change was necessary because antiterrorism statues made every Fairfax County resident a “member of the victim class,” and that law-enforcement sources already had leaked too much information to the press. But it was not until attorneys for Mr. Muhammad filed their June 16 request for a change of venue that the psychological and emotional effects of the sniper shootings on residents was articulated fully. “It is undeniable that the jurors will come to the trial with feelings that they were personally harmed by the alleged acts,” wrote Muhammad attorneys Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro. “Each one will have felt the fear that plagued the community during the series of random shootings attributed to the accused.” In a hearing earlier this week, Mr. Greenspun told Judge Millette that Mr. Muhammad’s trial had to be moved to seat jurors “who have only heard about [the shootings] and not experienced it.” Judge Millette called “the potential impact on members of the community” the strongest part of Mr. Greenspun’s argument. “If we go four or five days and have trouble finding a jury, we have to go someplace else,” Judge Millette said. “Is that a risk we’re willing to take?” Virginia Beach was mentioned as a new venue for Mr. Muhammad because Judge Roush visited the city during her exploratory trip. In a related matter, officials revoked the license of a Seattle gun dealer whose store was the source of the rifle used in the shootings, federal regulators said.

This report is based in part on wire service reports.

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