- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Some did it on a whim. Others were interested in watching justice at work. One woman just wanted to get out of the house.

More than 800 people are vying for a one-day pass to see sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad’s capital murder trial, which begins today.

“The last major trial like this that I can remember would be the O.J. trial,” said William Dean of Taneytown, Md., who will drive 290 miles to attend the trial if his name is drawn in the lottery. “This is going to get probably as much publicity as the [O.J. Simpson trial] did. It’s going to be huge.”

However, Mr. Muhammad’s trial will not be televised like Simpson’s criminal trial — in which the former pro football star was found not guilty of killing his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ronald Goldman.

Most of the roughly 50 seats in the Virginia Beach courthouse are reserved for reporters, security, attorneys and relatives of victim Dean H. Meyers, who was shot to death a year ago at a gas station in Northern Virginia.

That leaves five open seats to be assigned in the weekly, random drawings. Each winner will be allowed in the courtroom for one day. There will be no public seats during jury selection because most of them will be filled by potential jurors. But with testimony expected to take four to five weeks, about 125 members of the public will get a seat.

There were 854 entrants as of yesterday, said Paula Miller, a Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. She said some people signed up more than once, but their duplicate entries will be discarded.

People may continue to enter the lottery throughout the trial by filling out a form on the city’s Web site or by calling the city.

Most of the entrants live in the area, but at least one comes from Northern Virginia. The trial was moved from Northern Virginia after defense attorneys argued that all residents in the region could be considered victims because of the fear the sniper shootings caused.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, have been linked to last year’s 13 sniper shootings in the greater Washington area, in which 10 persons were killed. They also have been linked to nine other shootings around the country, including five that were fatal, from February 2002 to September 2002.

Mr. Malvo’s trial is scheduled to start Nov. 10 in Chesapeake, which is next to Virginia Beach. The process for allocating public seats during that trial is still being developed.

Mr. Dean wants to watch the first sniper trial in part because his life was disrupted by the shootings.

He travels frequently for work and was stuck in terrible traffic when he drove within a few miles of where some of the shootings occurred. His company remodels Home Depot stores. One of the shootings took place outside a Home Depot.

“These guys are crazy,” Mr. Dean said. “I just don’t understand how a kid that young — what’s his mind like? It interests me a lot to get in there and watch this up front.”

Clay Wise of Virginia Beach wants to observe the trial because he has a keen interest in law and has followed the developments in the sniper shootings.

“I know there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence against this individual,” Mr. Wise said. “I just wanted to see how the defense would handle the case.”

Maureen Watts of Norfolk has never seen a trial in person but thought it would be interesting to watch one that has attracted international attention.

“I did it on a whim,” Miss Watts said. “Really, I did it just because I could do it. I don’t think the odds are very good that I’ll get a seat, but you never know.”

Rena Moore of Virginia Beach gave a little laugh when asked why she signed up for the lottery.

“The truth? To get out of my house. I’m on disability,” said Ms. Moore, who has lupus. “I’ve been in the house for a year. I am tired of this. When that came up, I thought I would go for it.”

Theresa Miller of Chesapeake is studying to be a court reporter so she wants to get some experience sitting in a courtroom during a high-profile case.

“I’m certainly not interested in those men whatsoever,” she said. “I think they’re idiots.”

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