Sporting a new close-cropped haircut in his last court appearance before his six-count murder trial starts here Monday, convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad asked a Montgomery County judge yesterday first to delay, then to move, the trial.
"I don't believe I can get a fair trial here, based on the media attention," Muhammad told Judge James L. Ryan.
However, Ryan denied both requests, saying he felt it would be possible to find "fair and impartial" jurors in the large county. Three hundred people have been summoned.
Muhammad is representing himself, having fired his defense lawyers after they raised questions about whether he was too paranoid and mentally ill to stand trial.
The news media attention clearly was there yesterday: Before Muhammad entered the courtroom, a lineup of photographers, usually not allowed in court, waited. Muhammad previously had acceded to the judge's request for one opportunity for fresh photos, to end the reprinting of ones from Muhammad's 2003 trial in Virginia, which ended with him being placed on death row for one of the sniper shootings.
Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree balked at the set-up. Muhammad's standby lawyers, who had brought suits for him to wear, did not want a photo taken of Muhammad in a green jail jumpsuit. The judge decided he did not want a "Hollywood scene" around the man accused of being half of the sniper team accused of terrorizing the Washington area for three weeks in October 2002.
The compromise: One still photographer could take photos.
J. Wyndal Gordon, one of Muhammad's standby lawyers, said he is concerned that it will be impossible to find an impartial jury because "everyone can remember what they were doing at that time," referring to the three weeks in October 2002 when 13 people were shot in the Washington area, 10 of them fatally.
Two previous sniper trials were moved from Northern Virginia to the Hampton Roads area.