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Archive for Thursday, October 23, 2003

Sniper suspect abandons plans to represent himself

October 23, 2003

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— After two days of occasional fumbling in the courtroom, sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad gave up trying to be his own lawyer Wednesday and put his fate back in the hands of his court-appointed attorneys.

"Mr. Muhammad no longer believes it is in his best interest to represent himself," Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. told the jury in the murder case.

Muhammad, 42, whose face is badly swollen from a chronic toothache, did not spell out his reasons in open court but assured the judge that it had nothing to do with his health.

Muhammad had stunned the judge and his own attorneys when he demanded the right to act as his own lawyer just as opening arguments in the capital case were to begin Monday.

Though the judge said Muhammad represented himself competently, legal experts said he probably inflicted heavy damage on his case with a rambling opening statement that failed entirely to address the facts of the case.

During testimony, many of Muhammad's objections were overruled, and prosecutors objected to the way some of his questions to witnesses were posed, complaining that he was making gratuitous remarks or delving into irrelevant areas.

Muhammad is on trial in the slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, who was cut down by a single bullet at a Virginia gasoline station during the spree that left 10 people dead in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2002.

The trial, which had been proceeding quickly because Muhammad lacked the expertise to make legal arguments, slowed to a more standard pace as defense lawyers Jonathon Shapiro and Peter Greenspun made a series of lengthy objections pertaining to evidence, witnesses and trial procedure. The attorneys won a pair of important requests, keeping two prosecution witnesses off the stand and away from the jury.

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