- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad complained at a pretrial hearing yesterday that his jailers are refusing to let him wear underwear and restricting access to his legal files, a claim denied by the county sheriff.

“How does it make the courtroom safe with me coming in, no T-shirt, no underwear, no socks?” Muhammad asked Circuit Judge Jonathan Thacher at the conclusion of a hearing largely devoted to arguments about a possible change of venue for Muhammad’s second capital-murder trial, scheduled for October.

Muhammad appeared in Fairfax Circuit Court for a second straight day with his wrists cuffed closely to his sides. He winced in pain several times at the beginning of the hearing as deputies attempted to get him properly seated at the defense table. The deputies thought Muhammad was resisting their efforts, but Muhammad said several times, “I’m not doing anything.”

Muhammad has been under especially tight security since a pretrial hearing last month, in which he briefly slipped out of a waist chain, giving him a sizable length of chain in his hands that could have been used as a weapon before deputies noticed the situation and stopped the hearing.

Muhammad already faces the death penalty after being convicted last year of capital murder for the Oct. 9, 2002, murder of Dean Harold Meyers, one of 10 killings over a three-week span in October 2002 that terrorized the Washington region.

He is facing trial for another sniper killing, the Oct. 14, 2002, shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin at the Home Depot in Falls Church. Prosecutors say the second trial is needed in case the initial conviction or sentence is overturned on appeal.

Capt. Karen McClellan, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, said that Muhammad has access to underwear, socks and T-shirts, and that he is free to wear them.

She said she did not know what prompted his complaint.

Muhammad also complained that his jailers do not allow sufficient access to mail from his attorneys and his boxes of legal files. He said jail guards won’t bring him a new file until he returns an old one and that he needs greater access.

“The excuse is, ‘It’s a fire hazard.’ Who’ll start a fire? I don’t have any matches,” Muhammad said.

Judge Thacher told Muhammad he would look into it.

“I don’t have an answer. I will find out for you,” he said.

Judge Thacher heard arguments yesterday from Muhammad’s attorneys, who are seeking a change of venue because of the sniper shootings’ impact on the jury pool.

Prosecutors oppose a change, saying it will be surprisingly easy to find an unbiased jury in Fairfax County, a large, diverse county of 1 million that attracts tens of thousands of new residents every year.

Judge Thacher said he would rule on the issue shortly.

Muhammad’s first trial was moved from Prince William County to Virginia Beach.

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