- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — After four days of painstaking jury selection, a jury of eight white women, five white men and two black women was chosen and sworn in yesterday for the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad.

Among the jurors are a bartender, an electrical engineer, a widow who has survived breast cancer, an eighth-grade teacher and a customer service representative for a catalog business who has worked the night shift. Seven of the jurors have military experience or are married to military personnel.

Opening statements will be heard Monday morning. James A. Willett, Prince William County assistant commonwealth’s attorney, said he will state the prosecution’s case in a 90-minute presentation, which is longer than usual. Peter D. Greenspun will make the defense statement.

Fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, who defense attorneys have said was brainwashed by Mr. Muhammad, will be present in the courtroom Monday, according to Virginia Beach Sheriff Paul J. Lanteigne. Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert subpoenaed Mr. Malvo for identification purposes, The Washington Post reported yesterday.

“I don’t know what he’s up to,” defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro said of Mr. Ebert after yesterday’s proceedings. Mr. Malvo’s appearance will be the second time he has appeared in the same courtroom as his former mentor. He was called Oct. 1 to the Manassas courthouse but took the Fifth Amendment when asked if he would testify about any involvement in the shootings.

In most trials, jury selection usually takes one day to complete. However, for Mr. Muhammad’s trial, it dragged on for the same reason the trial was moved out of Northern Virginia — pretrial publicity and the direct effect of the shootings on individuals among the initial 123 called for jury duty by the Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

Many jury candidates were excused after declaring they had already formed opinions, based on news reports, about the guilt of Mr. Muhammad. Others were dismissed after saying they feared for their lives during the three-week sniping spree last October that killed 10 persons and wounded three in the Washington area in 2002.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and Mr. Malvo, 18, have been linked with the shootings, along with nine other shootings across the country that killed five and wounded four.

Mr. Muhammad is charged with the Oct. 9 slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. He is charged with two counts of capital murder, one for terrorism and the other for killing more than one person in less than three years. He also is charged with conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm.

Mr. Malvo goes on trial Nov. 10 in Chesapeake, Va., in the Oct. 14 shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at the Falls Church Home Depot.

Most of the last jury candidates were excused yesterday by attorneys because of their views on the death penalty. It became increasingly clear that the defense attorneys are focused on saving their client from the death penalty if he is convicted.

Attorneys finished the tedious process of individual interviews by midday. They interviewed 43 jury candidates until they had 27 who could not be excused for cause. In the final round of peremptory strikes, each side then dismissed six jurors without giving a reason why, narrowing the jury to its final number of 15.

Three of the jurors will be alternates. They will be designated Monday, but only attorneys will know who those jurors are.

Three of the jury candidates excused in the final round had expressed doubts or confusion over the morality of the death penalty. “I’d rather not have it on my conscience,” said one middle-aged woman, juror No. 67.

Another man, juror 514, a Mercedes-Benz mechanic, said about the death penalty, “I’m not supposed to take another person’s life. But that goes for the other person who supposedly took another person’s life. I don’t know what to think.”

Two others who were excused expressed strong opinions in favor of the death penalty, and one woman indicated she would not consider mitigating factors during the penalty phase of the trial.

Capital cases in Virginia have two parts. If a defendant is found guilty during the initial phase of the trial, the trial enters the penalty phase. Attorneys then will have to persuade the jury to sentence the defendant to death or life in prison without parole.

Mr. Muhammad’s attorneys made it clear during jury selection that they intend to tell the jury during the penalty phase that their client was abused as a child, using the abuse as a mitigating factor.

Mr. Meyers’ family attended court yesterday. Larry Meyers, Dean’s older brother, said he has been subpoenaed to testify and expects to do so at the beginning of the trial as a character witness for his slain brother.

He said he does not care whether Mr. Muhammad receives the death penalty.

“We believe the wheels of justice will come up with an appropriate verdict,” he said.

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