Sniper suspect's murder trial to be moved

Sunday, July 13, 2003

MANASSAS, Va. -- Prosecutors in the case of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad say they now support moving his murder trial out of the Washington suburbs, where the string of apparently random sniper attacks terrorized residents for three weeks last fall.

Muhammad's attorneys have been arguing for a change of venue, and circuit Judge Leroy F. Millette Jr. said he would rule on the motion soon.

Prosecutor Paul Ebert said Friday he still believes an impartial jury can be seated in Manassas, where Muhammad is charged in the Oct. 9 slaying of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a gas station. But Ebert said it would be inconsistent to leave the trial there, given that another judge approved a change of venue for Muhammad's alleged accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo.

Ten people, all apparently targeted at random, were killed in the sniper attacks in the Washington area. Prosecutors have said the attacks were a scheme to extort $10 million from the government.

In all, Malvo, 18, and Muhammad, 42, have been linked to 20 shootings, including 13 deaths, in Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C.

Malvo is facing trial first in the Oct. 14 shooting death of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot store in Fairfax County.

The judge in Malvo's case, Jane Marum Roush, ruled last week that the wave of fear that gripped the Washington area during the attacks would make it impossible to find an impartial jury in Fairfax County. She moved the trial to Chesapeake, 200 miles to the south.

Both Malvo and Muhammad could face the death penalty if convicted.

On Friday, Millette also rejected a motion to dismiss one of the capital murder counts against Muhammad that is based on the state's new anti-terrorism law, which defines terrorism in part as an attempt to intimidate the civilian population.

Muhammad's attorneys also have apparently dropped their request for a trial by judge rather than jury. They initially requested a bench trial, saying it would be impossible to find an impartial jury anywhere in Virginia.

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