The murder trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad continued yesterday with a long and tedious jury-selection process.
The attorneys say they expect to finish interviewing potential jurors today and argue motions tomorrow.
Attorneys questioned 15 potential jurors over seven hours yesterday. Prince William Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. dismissed two.
Fourteen others must be approved for the final round of interviews, during which prosecutors and defense attorneys may dismiss six without explanation, a process known as strikes.
The final panel will consist of 12 jurors and three alternates.
The questions yesterday focused on potential jurors’ opinions on the death penalty, their exposure to pretrial publicity and whether they understood that a guilty verdict meant they would have to choose between the death penalty or life in prison without parole for Mr. Muhammad.
The 13 jurors approved so far are nine white women, two white men, one black woman and one black man. They include a real estate agent, a repair technician, a program manager, a retired Navy captain and a bartender.
Mr. Muhammad, 42, appeared in court yesterday wearing an olive blazer and dark slacks with the gray tie he wore during his first day in court Wednesday. For most of the day, he was still and appeared unemotional.
He is charged with the Oct. 9 slaying of Dean H. Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg at a Manassas gas station.
Mr. Muhammad has pleaded not guilty to two counts of capital murder — one under the state’s new antiterrorism statute and one for killing more than one person in three years. He is also charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of illegal use of a firearm.
He and companion Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, are accused of killing 10 persons and wounding three during a three-week shooting spree in the greater Washington area last year. Authorities say Mr. Muhammad brainwashed Mr. Malvo and used him to carry out the shootings.
Judge Millette moved Mr. Muhammad’s trial to Virginia Beach this summer after determining that Northern Virginians were too traumatized by the sniper shootings to give him a fair trial.
Mr. Malvo, 18, goes on trial Nov. 10 for the Oct. 14 shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot in Falls Church. He also faces the death penalty if convicted.
The two excused from the jury pool yesterday, one man and one woman, were black. Prosecutors argued that the man could not understand the legal directions stated to him. Judge Millette agreed, despite objections from the defense team.
Defense attorneys said the woman excused had formed an opinion about Mr. Muhammad’s guilt that she could not set aside. Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert did not object.
The defense unsuccessfully tried to excuse two other jurors. The prosecution tried and failed to excuse one juror who expressed doubt about the death penalty.
Jury selection involves nothing more than educated guesses, said Warren Von Schuch, Chesterfield County Deputy commonwealth’s attorney, who has sent 13 convicts to death row in 28 years.
“I have seen time and time again where a jury came back within an hour with a death penalty and the foreman was that little old lady who didn’t know if she could impose the death penalty,” Mr. Von Schuch said. “It’s an educated crapshoot, but it’s a crapshoot.”
Among the motions the defense is expected to argue tomorrow is a request to allow mental health testimony, even though Mr. Muhammad has refused twice to cooperate with a state psychiatrist.
Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro said the prosecution’s mental health expert could testify based on information about the defendant provided in court.
“He doesn’t even need to speak to the defendant,” Mr. Shapiro told reporters Tuesday.
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