- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

A behind-the-scenes tug of war failed to keep the youngest sniper victim from testifying yesterday at John Allen Muhammad’s murder trial, to the relief of prosecutors who hope the boy’s experience makes the case as “personal” to jurors as it did to police.

The appearance of Iran Brown, 14, of Bowie, occurred after overnight negotiations convinced his mother, Lisa, that prosecutors would be gentle with her son. His testimony added a human element that underscored the savagery of the attack outside his middle school Oct. 7, 2002.

Iran’s three minutes or so on the witness stand at midday became high drama, as Ms. Brown had filed papers Tuesday night seeking to block his appearance altogether. But just as court convened yesterday morning, she let attorney Richard Brydges withdraw the motion.

The Virginia Beach attorneys representing Iran and his mother told the judge the family became comfortable with Iran taking the stand after talking to prosecutors. Their earlier legal motion had said forcing him to confront his accused assailant would victimize him once again.

A compromise offer of live, two-way closed-circuit testimony was said to be not technically possible.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that it would be traumatic to sit across from the guy accused of injuring him so badly,” said Steven Frucci, one of the Brown family attorneys.

“He was conscious the whole time. He knows what happened. He was terrified,” Mr. Frucci said of Iran’s experience, citing emotional and physical scars. “His stomach and insides basically were like someone had put them through a meat grinder.”

The boy spent a month at Children’s Hospital, whose doctors said his chest wound looked “like a bomb had gone off in there.” They removed his spleen and repaired a lung, his stomach and other internal organs that the bullet tore apart.

Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert assured Iran’s mother Tuesday night and yesterday morning that prosecutors would be gentle and brief.

“The prosecution shared the concerns about the emotional well-being of the child,” Mr. Frucci said.

The boy stayed dry-eyed and steady, and courtroom spectators said jurors appeared moved.

“I put my book bag down and I got shot,” Iran said in answer to one of the few questions he did not answer “yes” or “no.” Then he said, “It brought me closer to God.”

When Iran finished testifying at 12:13 p.m., the Muhammad defense attorneys asked no questions, following their policy against cross-examining survivors of shootings or victims’ relatives.

Iran’s shooting was the one in which the tarot “Death” card was left, inscribed “I am God” — which changed the nature of the case, even for hardened investigators. Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose shed tears in public that day and said shooting a child made it “personal” for him.

Witnesses must appear in court because the Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to confront them and bars hearsay evidence.

Virginia law allows victims under 14 testifying in a murder case to appear via videotape, but requires a week’s notice, which was not given in this case. Defense lawyers must be present and cross-examine during a videotaped appearance.

Because the time limit had passed, Iran’s attorneys asked that his subpoena be quashed and that he be excused as a witness. The motion said his appearance would “cause emotional trauma, aggravate problems that already exist, but would prove very little because he had not seen the shooter,” Mr. Frucci said.

Inconvenience or even psychological injury is not enough to win an exemption from appearing in person. Most jurisdictions require the trial judge to determine if testifying would be more traumatic to a specific witness than “the average victim of a violent act,” according to a review of cases through May 2003 by American Jurisprudence.

On the day Iran was shot at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, he arrived by car because he had been banned from the school bus for three days for eating candy.

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