- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

Jury selection in the second trial of convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad began yesterday with a difficult search for impartial minds, punctuated by a courtroom gallery outburst from one of the victim’s relatives.

Muhammad, 45, is charged with six killings in Montgomery County, which were part of a three-week shooting spree in 2002 that killed 10, wounded three and caused fear throughout the region.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan called more than 300 potential jurors and walked them through 32 yes or no questions primarily related to their ability to serve and judge impartially.

He then interviewed about 60 potential jurors individually, pressing most of them about their answers. Most potential jurors said they already thought Muhammad was guilty.

“It really made me angry at the time, and I don’t think I could be impartial because of the fear inflicted on children and adults,” said the first potential juror, a mother of small children. She was dismissed.

Muhammad expressed displeasure to the judge about being presumed guilty and seemed unable to grasp that preconceived notions could be put aside in order to base a judgment only on facts and evidence presented in court.

“It’s one thing to have heard about it. It’s another thing to already have made your mind up,” Muhammad said.

A Virginia Beach jury in 2003 found Muhammad guilty of murder in the death of Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas service station and using an accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, now 21, in the crime. That jury sentenced Muhammad to death. Malvo was given life without parole by a Chesapeake jury for a different killing two months after Muhammad’s sentencing.

Authorities say they brought Muhammad to Maryland on the off chance something goes wrong on appeal in Virginia and to deliver justice to the families of victims at the epicenter of the shooting spree.

Early in yesterday’s proceeding, before potential jurors came into the courtroom and after a brief motions hearing, a man wearing a red T-shirt that said “Why?” stood and began yelling at Muhammad.

“I hope you rot in hell,” Christopher Roberts shouted at Muhammad, who looked up briefly from his table and then back down and continued writing on a piece of paper.

Mr. Roberts, who said he was a cousin of Conrad E. Johnson, a bus driver who was the final victim in the sniper rampage, then began to hurl obscenities at Muhammad.

Sheriff’s deputies forcibly removed Mr. Roberts from the courthouse, and Judge Ryan reassured Muhammad that the tight security was for his benefit.

“That’s America, your honor. Freedom of speech,” Muhammad said.

Outside, Mr. Roberts said Muhammad’s choice to represent himself in this case is “insulting” to relatives of the shooting victims.

“It’s not fair,” Mr. Roberts said. “Be honest with yourself and say, ‘I did a crime.’”

About 20 potential jurors were selected yesterday, and 49 must be chosen before a round of strikes narrows the pool to a jury of 12 with four alternates.

Muhammad will have 22 strikes, and the prosecution will have 11.

Opening statements are tentatively scheduled to begin Thursday. The trial is supposed to last about six weeks.

Muhammad’s standby counsel, J. Wyndal Gordon, asked Judge Ryan for more leeway in helping Muhammad with jury selection.

“We’re not taking over his case,” Mr. Gordon said.

Judge Ryan said he would read the case that Mr. Gordon cited in support of his point, but Muhammad’s reliance on his standby attorneys drew the ire of prosecutor Katherine Winfree, the county’s assistant state’s attorney.

Ms. Winfree also grew agitated when she saw the number of witnesses Muhammad wants to call in his defense. Muhammad submitted a list of about 150 names he wants called as witnesses, his attorneys said.

Judge Ryan initially told Muhammad that he could not subpoena out-of-state witnesses, because it was too late to do so. But the judge later read the witnesses’ names to the jury pool.

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