- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — The sniper trial has featured tear-filled testimony, grisly photographs and weeping jurors, but the attention of the five members of the general public who attend the proceedings has been riveted on one thing — suspect John Allen Muhammad.

“I can’t help but look at him and wonder what he’s thinking,” Mauri Snee, 77, said Monday. “I wonder if he’s thinking about going back and reliving his life.”

“It’s insane. It’s mind-boggling,” she said.

Prosecutors today will shift their focus to expert testimony on forensics, trying to link the defendant to last year’s sniper shootings via fingerprints, ballistics and DNA evidence. But the public observers have focused more on the suspect than the evidence against him.

More than 2,000 people have entered the public lottery for a chance to spend one day in the Muhammad trial, and most have paid little attention to the legal wrangling. They have shown interest only in the man accused of leading a “killing team” that gunned down 10 random strangers in the Washington area last October.

Virginia Beach Sheriff Paul J. Lanteigne set up the lottery because of the limited access to Courtroom 10, which has 54 seats. Most of the seats are occupied by members of the media, law enforcement agencies, legal support staff and victims’ families.

The most pressing question public observers have asked is the most basic and the most difficult to answer: If he is guilty, why did he do it?

“I guess it’s history in a way, but I was more interested in what was the reason for somebody to do that,” said Gary Garris, who saw Mr. Muhammad defend himself on Oct. 21.

The sniper suspect represented himself for the first two days of his trial, then returned his defense to his attorneys on Oct. 22.

“It’s difficult to understand how someone can go around shooting people at random and without a reason,” said Mr. Garris, 53. “Still can’t figure it out. You think someone who would do that would either have a mental problem or be trying to make a point to society, and he didn’t seem to have either one.

“I don’t think we’ll ever understand,” he said.

Many public observers who sat in on the trial after Mr. Muhammad had stopped defending himself said they wished he would have continued.

“Even though I thought he was making a mistake by representing himself, I was still disappointed. I wanted to get a sense of who he was,” said Nancy Bloom, who attended the trial the day Mr. Muhammad rehired attorneys Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro.

“I wanted to hear his voice. I heard he talks like Mike Tyson,” said Michael Goldsberry, 51, of Chesapeake, who drives a truck for a welding company.

Mr. Goldsberry’s name was drawn for Oct. 23, when a faulty transformer killed the courthouse’s electricity and forced the cancellation of the day’s proceedings. His date was rescheduled for today. “I really wanted to hear him speak, but now that he’s not speaking, I still want to see the man,” he said of the suspect.

Scott Moscovitz, 39, saw Mr. Muhammad on Oct. 24. “He’s a tall guy. I didn’t think he was that tall,” he said.

“It’s surreal being able to stand so close to someone I could spit on him,” Mr. Moscovitz added.

Sandra Broadwater, 35, of Norfolk, said she entered the lottery because the sniper shootings affected her family. She also was scheduled for Oct. 23 and will attend today.

“I wanted to see who terrorized my kids, because they were scared,” she said.

Mr. Muhammad is charged in the Oct. 9, 2002, fatal shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. He faces one count of capital murder for killing two or more people in three years, and another count of capital murder under Virginia’s new antiterrorism statute. He is also charged with conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm.

He and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, have been accused of last October’s 13 sniper shootings in the Washington area and have been linked to nine other shootings, five fatal, in five states before the October spree.

Mr. Malvo goes on trial Monday in the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot. Both suspects face the death penalty if convicted.

Not all of the 50 persons whose names have been picked in the lottery have attended court proceedings. On Monday, a woman from Odenton, Md., and a D.C. man did not attend, while three local residents did.

So far, 12 persons from Maryland have been picked, along with nine from Northern Virginia and one from the District. The remaining 28 have been from Virginia Beach or the surrounding Hampton Roads area.

The lottery is still open and can be entered via the Web site www.vbgov.com/trial/lottery/.

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