- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Officials yesterday postponed the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad after a faulty underground electrical transformer killed power to the courthouse complex.

Power is expected to return this morning and the trial, which began last week, will resume at 9:30 a.m., officials said.

Jurors arrived yesterday morning to a darkened courthouse and sat in a candle-lit room as government officials scurried around to find the cause of the blackout.

“Suffice it to say this is horrible timing,” said Chuck Penn, spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power Co., which supplies electricity to the Virginia Beach area.

Virginia Beach District Court Administrator Mike Davies said replacing the transformer would take all day and night. Proceedings were canceled because none of the court’s electrical equipment, including the sound system, video system and computer monitors, could be used, he said.

Mr. Davies said the blackout did not affect the jail and that there were no security concerns.

Prosecutor Paul B. Ebert, Prince William County commonwealth’s attorney, said the day off gave him his first opportunity to eat lunch out. “Everybody wants the trial to move along, but we can sure use a day off to get better organized,” he said.

The postponement came the day after the sniper suspect had stopped acting as his own attorney and rehired his defense attorneys. The delay allowed Mr. Muhammad a full day to recover from dental work performed on him Wednesday night.

“We’ve been going for a while, and this kind of break is a welcome thing,” said Jonathan Shapiro, who, with attorney Peter D. Greenspun, is representing Mr. Muhammad.

An in-house dentist at the jail where the suspect is being held pulled one of his teeth and filled a cavity in another, Mr. Shapiro said.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, had complained about an abscessed tooth; he had sat in obvious pain with a wad of tissue paper in his mouth throughout the proceedings Wednesday.

He told Prince William County Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. during a bench conference that a filling had been knocked out of his tooth one year ago today, when he was arrested at an interstate rest stop near Frederick, Md. He said he had undergone a root canal in Prince William County during the past year, but that the filling had been knocked out when he bit on something Tuesday.

“I don’t take any pain medication,” Mr. Muhammad told the judge. “If I did, I would be drowsy in the courtroom. So after about a week, the pain kind of sets out.”

Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Greenspun are playing catch-up after being rehired by Mr. Muhammad, who stunned the court Monday when he said he wanted to represent himself.

For two days, the sniper suspect spoke for himself to the jury and cross-examined prosecution witnesses, including one man who had survived a shooting Mr. Muhammad is accused of participating in. He was quickly overwhelmed because of his lack of legal experience and ignorance of case law, and relied heavily on his attorneys’ often-unprompted advice.

He and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, have been linked to 13 sniper shootings last October in the Washington area, in which 10 persons were killed and three wounded. They also are accused of nine other shootings, five of them fatal, that occurred nationwide between February 2001 and September last year.

Mr. Muhammad is charged with two counts of capital murder in the slaying of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station on Oct. 9 last year. One count is under the state’s new antiterrorism statute and one for killing more than one person in three years; both charges carry the death penalty. He is also charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of illegal use of a firearm.

Mr. Malvo faces similar charges in the shooting death of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot on Oct. 14 last year. He is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 10 in nearby Chesapeake.

Both sniper trials were moved from the site of the crimes because the presiding judges ruled that Northern Virginians would be too traumatized to serve as impartial jurors.

The younger suspect appeared in the courtroom here twice this week after having been flown in from Fairfax County Jail.

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