A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge yesterday ordered John Allen Muhammad to stand trial on capital murder charges, even as the convicted sniper appeals the death sentence handed down by a Prince William County court in November.
Judge Jonathan C. Thacher set Muhammad’s trial date for Oct. 4 in the killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, in the parking garage of a Home Depot in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County on Oct. 14, 2002.
The killing was one of 10 in the region believed to be committed by Muhammad and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, during a three-week sniper shooting spree.
Malvo was sentenced to life in prison last year for the same crime for which Muhammad now stands accused. Muhammad, 43, was convicted and sentenced to death in the fatal shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, on Oct. 11, 2002, at a Manassas gas station.
Muhammad, clad in a green prison jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, appeared in court yesterday looking haggard and his face was unshaven.
He was transported from his death row cell at Sussex I prison in Waverly, Va., to Fairfax County for the hearing. Lt. Tony Shobe, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, said Muhammad will remain in jail in Fairfax until his current trial is complete.
Muhammad did not speak during the 25-minute hearing yesterday, but afterward briefly consulted with his attorneys, Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro.
Muhammad’s attorneys argued that a trial in Fairfax County would violate the constitutional guarantee to a speedy trial. Mr. Greenspun argued that a bench warrant was issued in Fairfax County in November 2002, but was not served until last month.
But Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said he was confident that the process was conducted properly.
“We don’t believe there’s a speedy-trial problem,” he said. “The judge articulated the Virginia rules. If you’re confined, you must be tried within five months of the arrest. The arrest in this charge was in May.”
He estimated the trial would take between four and six weeks, based on the length of Muhammad’s last trial.
Mr. Horan, who unsuccessfully sought the death penalty for Malvo, said the seriousness of the sniper shootings and the long wait through Muhammad’s death row appeals process warranted another trial despite concerns about costs, which ran about $3 million for both trials.
“The immediate questions from the prior cases aren’t going to be final for years. That’s just the way it is,” Mr. Horan said after the hearing. “Virginia does it quicker than any other state in the union, but it still takes more than five years to get through that entire process.”
Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert, who won the death penalty conviction for Muhammad, said yesterday he plans to pursue another capital murder case against Malvo if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds that juveniles are eligible for the death penalty. The Supreme Court ruling is expected this year or next.
Mr. Greenspun said he had not decided whether he will file a motion for a change of venue. Judge Thacher said such a motion must be filed by July 22.
A Prince William County judge ordered Muhammad’s first trial moved to Virginia Beach and a Fairfax County judge moved Malvo’s trial to Chesapeake, Va., amid concerns about seating an impartial jury. Mr. Horan said yesterday he believed Muhammad could get a fair trial in Fairfax.
During pretrial hearings scheduled for July 29, the judge said he will consider the argument that Muhammad has been denied a speedy trial, any request for a change of venue, and requests to permit cameras in the courtroom.