- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

One year to the day after Linda Franklin was fatally shot in a Home Depot parking lot in Falls Church, the man accused of masterminding her death and a spree of sniper shootings that claimed nine other lives in the Washington area goes on trial in a Virginia Beach courtroom.

Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr., prosecutors and attorneys for defendant John Allen Muhammad will begin sifting today through the 140 potential jurors in hopes of finding 15 persons — 12 jurors and three alternates — who haven’t made up their minds already on the guilt or innocence of the 42-year-old former U.S. Army marksman.

The Prince William County Circuit Court judge moved the trial 200 miles away amid concerns that Mr. Muhammad and his co-defendant, Lee Boyd Malvo, could not receive a fair trial in the Washington area because of massive publicity during the three weeks of random shootings last October.

The two defendants were arrested Oct. 24 while sleeping at a Myersville, Md., rest stop. Heavily armed federal and state agents working on a tip from a traveler arrested the men at about 3 a.m. inside their 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, ending a 23-day manhunt that had focused on finding a white truck.

Inside the Caprice, investigators found a rifle that ballistics specialists quickly linked to 11 of the shootings. Agents also found the men in possession of a laptop computer that connected them to the crimes and discovered that the car had been modified so that a gun could be fired out of a hole in the trunk.

Mr. Malvo, 18, goes on trial Nov. 10 in Chesapeake, also on the Virginia coast, in Mrs. Franklin’s death last Oct. 14.

But first, Mr. Muhammad will be tried in Virginia Beach in the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg, at a Manassas gas station.

Two of the charges could result in the death penalty: a capital murder charge filed under Virginia’s new antiterrorism statute, which the state legislature passed after the September 11 attacks to target “evil masterminds” such as Osama bin Laden, and a second capital murder charge filed under the Virginia law making the murder of two or more persons within a three-year period punishable by death.

Mr. Muhammad also is charged with one count of conspiracy and with illegal use of a firearm.

Prosecutor Paul B. Ebert, the Prince William County commonwealth’s attorney, has said he hopes the voir dire portion of the trial — the interviewing of potential jurors — will be completed by the end of the week. The trial could be over within a month.

During voir dire, attorneys for both sides will question potential jurors about their backgrounds and political views, including their opinions about the death penalty. Potential jurors who object to capital punishment will be excused.

The prosecution and the defense each has six strikes, which they can use to excuse jurors without stating a reason. Jurors also may be eliminated for specified reasons, including inability to serve for four to six weeks.

Mr. Muhammad’s refusal last week to cooperate with the prosecution’s psychiatrist could mean a shorter trial for him than for Mr. Malvo. Attorneys for the younger suspect said last week they would argue he was insane by virtue of his “indoctrination” by Mr. Muhammad. Trials with an insanity defense take longer because of the mental health evaluations and testimony.

The cost of the two trials, not including the prosecution, has risen to nearly $5 million: $1.2 million for Fairfax County, $1 million for Prince William County, $800,000 each for Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, and a combined $900,000 for the two defense teams.

The cost of the prosecution has not been disclosed.

Prosecutors said they would argue that Mr. Muhammad brainwashed his young cohort and trained him to carry out 22 shootings across the country, killing 15 and wounding seven.

Defense attorneys Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro will argue that prosecutors have no proof of Mr. Muhammad’s direct participation in the shootings and that confessions by Mr. Malvo show that he alone is the triggerman.

The prosecution team is expected to attempt to link Mr. Muhammad to the crime with such circumstantial evidence as DNA, records of phone calls made by Mr. Muhammad and police logs that place the defendant near the shootings. They also will detail the Army veteran’s relationship with Mr. Malvo to attempt to demonstrate his influence over the young man.

Today is the one-year anniversary of Mrs. Franklin’s death. The 47-year old FBI analyst was the 11th victim of the snipers’ Washington-area spree, which killed 10 and wounded three. Mrs. Franklin was shot in the head while loading purchases into her car with her husband at the Home Depot at Seven Corners.

Mr. Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, is charged as an adult in Mrs. Franklin’s death in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

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