- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Attorneys for a dejected-looking John Allen Muhammad yesterday rested their case after less than two hours of testimony from five defense witnesses in his capital murder trial.

The presentation of the Muhammad defense mirrored the speedy proceedings of fellow sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo’s trial in nearby Chesapeake, where a jury was impaneled yesterday. Prosecutors and defense attorneys selected 12 jurors and four alternates from a narrowed pool of 28 candidates in about 15 minutes.

Today, as opening arguments begin in the Malvo trial, closing arguments will get under way in the Muhammad trial here and are expected to last three to four hours. Jury deliberations will likely begin this afternoon or tomorrow morning.

Yesterday’s quick defense, which followed a three-week prosecution case in which 136 witnesses were called, indicates that the Muhammad defense team has essentially conceded a guilty verdict and will focus on avoiding or appealing a death sentence.

Defense attorneys Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro moved forward with their case after Prince William Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. denied their motions to dismiss the two capital murder charges against their client.

Judge Millette considered the motions over the Veterans Day holiday on Tuesday, but told the attorneys yesterday he did not think the law stipulates that a capital murder charge could be brought only against the triggerman in last year’s sniper shootings.

In the months before the Muhammad trial, the biggest legal question was whether the 42-year-old defendant could be convicted of one count of capital murder if it was not proved he was the triggerman. Mr. Malvo, 18, has confessed twice to several shootings, but authorities never received any kind of a confession from the elder suspect.

Prosecutors rested their case on Monday, having acknowledged they could not prove he ever pulled the trigger in any of the sniper shootings. They said the circumstantial evidence proves he was at least responsible for the planning and execution of the random shootings.

Judge Millette agreed.

“I think there is evidence to support the commonwealth’s position that Mr. Muhammad is the immediate perpetrator, whether the jury decides that or not,” he said. “The inference can be drawn that [the suspects] perfected their killing scheme and were able to go undetected at the scene.”

The sniper suspects have been accused of the 13 random shootings that left 10 dead and three wounded in the Washington area in October 2002. They also have been linked to nine other shootings, five fatal, in five states across the nation.

Mr. Muhammad is charged with the Oct. 9 fatal shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. He faces one charge of capital murder under the state’s new antiterrorism law, and one for murdering two or more persons in three years.

Judge Millette has acknowledged that the word “triggerman” is sometimes used by Virginia’s Supreme Court in establishing the principal in the first degree during a capital murder case.

But, he said, if jurors consider Mr. Meyers’ murder in the context of the 15 other shootings that prosecutors presented, along with witness testimony that Mr. Muhammad exerted a controlling influence over Mr. Malvo and that the two were seen near several shootings, then Mr. Muhammad could be found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death.

“The immediate perpetrator is probably a better way to analyze this case,” Judge Millette said.

Mr. Greenspun noted his objection. “It remains our position that the so-called triggerman rule is the law,” he said.

Judge Millette yesterday also denied the defense motion to strike the capital murder charge against Mr. Muhammad under the terrorism law. Mr. Greenspun and Mr. Shapiro had argued that prosecutors did not prove that their client directed or ordered the shootings.

The defense attorneys tried to discredit a few of the prosecution’s witnesses with the five witnesses they summoned yesterday.

Jason L. Milam, a private investigator from Baton Rouge, La., said he asked Charlene Anderson, Mr. Muhammad’s cousin, if she had ever seen him with a rifle or a rifle case when he came to stay with her in the summer of 2002. Miss Anderson testified on Oct. 27 that Mr. Muhammad had a long rifle in a bag when he and Mr. Malvo stayed there and that he asked her where he could find bullets.

Mr. Milam said yesterday that when he went to see Miss Anderson in Baton Rouge on Aug. 27, she told him she had never seen Mr. Muhammad with a rifle. The prosecution is expected to call a witness today to rebut that testimony.

Mr. Greenspun also called one of the prosecution’s witnesses, Detective David McGill, the Montgomery County crime scene analyst in charge of examining the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice in which the two suspects were arrested on Oct. 24, 2002.

Mr. Greenspun quizzed Detective McGill on numerous details about what was found in the car, questioning whether the rifle sight that was found to have Mr. Muhammad’s DNA on it was handled properly by authorities. He also asked if a hacksaw was found in the car and Detective McGill said no.

Prosecution witnesses said the hole in the back of the trunk, through which the sniper suspects are accused of shooting, was cut out with a hacksaw.

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