Malvo pleads innocent; jury selection begins

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- As sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad stood trial in a courtroom 15 miles away, jury selection began Monday in the murder case against 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, with his attorneys arguing he was brainwashed by the older Muhammad.

The start of Malvo's case sets the stage for simultaneous sniper trials in separate courtrooms in different cities.

Malvo, wearing black pants and a navy sweater over a white shirt, responded, "Not guilty," in a clear voice each time he was asked for a plea to two counts of capital murder and one count of using a firearm in a felony.

He is accused in the slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, who was cut down by a single bullet outside a Home Depot on Oct. 14, 2002.

In contrast to Muhammad's usual stony demeanor, Malvo smiled frequently and occasionally laughed as he conferred with his attorneys.

His attorneys plan to pursue an insanity defense, and they said Monday after court that they have subpoenaed Muhammad to testify in an attempt to bolster their brainwashing theory.

"We have a number of questions we would like to ask him," defense attorney Craig Cooley said, adding, "not the least of which is the motivation for the indoctrination of Lee."

Malvo's defense team said that neither Muhammad nor his attorneys have indicated that Muhammad would invoke his right against self-incrimination.

Cooley also said the defense expects Muhammad's wife, Mildred Muhammad, to testify "to describe the manipulative nature of Mr. Muhammad."

Malvo and Muhammad, 42, are being tried for different killings; Muhammad is accused of gunning down a man at a gas station. The pair have been been accused of killing 10 and wounding three during the sniper spree last fall in the Washington, D.C., area.

Both cases were moved away from the nation's capital out of concern that an impartial jury could not be found close to Washington because the shootings caused such widespread fear. Malvo's case was moved to Chesapeake, Muhammad's to nearby Virginia Beach.

In Muhammad's case, prosecutors called their final witness after three weeks of emotional testimony from victims and witnesses about the sniper killings.

Muhammad's attorneys want the charges thrown out, saying prosecutors offered no evidence that he pulled the trigger in the slaying for which he is on trial. Prosecutors contend Muhammad exerted such control over Malvo that Muhammad should be held responsible even if Malvo pulled the trigger.

Similarly, Malvo's lawyers plan to argue that he was so "indoctrinated" by Muhammad that he either did not know what he was doing or could not control himself.

Twelve jurors plus four alternates will be selected from a pool of 151 potential jurors for Malvo's trial, which is expected to last six weeks.

Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush said she expects jury selection to take several days. Seven potential jurors were qualified Monday. Once 28 are qualified, each side will get to strike six.

Forty-six people were dismissed for various reasons, including a doctor, a man awaiting surgery, several full-time students, people caring for terminally ill relatives, small-business owners and people with vacation plans. One man said that for religious reasons, he could not "sit in judgment of another."

The judge and attorneys questioned potential jurors about whether they had heard about the case in the media, whether they could fairly weigh evidence about brainwashing and insanity and whether they would be willing to impose the death penalty on someone under 18. Malvo was four months shy of his 18th birthday when the sniper spree occurred.

One woman told defense attorneys that she "was a little prejudiced towards guilty" based on media coverage.

"It's been in the news so much and we've heard so much, it's hard not to have" a bias, said the woman, who was dismissed.

Roush denied a defense request to dismiss a capital murder charge that accuses Malvo of committing terrorism when he allegedly shot Franklin.

Defense attorney Mark Petrovich argued that the grand jury should have been moved away from the Washington area, for the same reason the trial was. "Any bias that would eliminate a juror would also eliminate a grand juror," Petrovich argued.

But Prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. said a grand jury has to determine only whether there is probable cause to believe that a person committed a crime.

In Virginia Beach, Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. sent the jury home after the prosecution wound up its case in the Muhammad trial. The defense is expected to begin presenting its case on Wednesday, after the Veterans Day holiday.

While Malvo and Muhammad are on trial in one killing each, to win a death sentence prosecutors must show that the men took part in multiple killings or terrorized the public.

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