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Excerpts from the sniper trial: Muhammad steps down

October 23, 2003

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Taken from a bench conference in which sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad asked to forfeit his right to act as his own attorney and reinstate lawyers Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro. The excerpt begins with court officials trying to clarify Muhammad's request to rehire his attorneys.

Muhammad: Your Honor, last night I bit down on something, and I have an abscess in my tooth. I talked to my lawyers about it. They said the only way that you would allow them to speak for me is ...

The court reporter: The only way that you would ...

Greenspun: The only way my lawyers will be able to speak for me is for me to forfeit my right - I think is what he said.

Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr.: That's what he said. How do you feel about that? I want to talk to you about that anyhow. Let's put this on the record because we're already here. I believe that you can competently represent yourself in the sense that you are intelligent enough to represent yourself. I think that you have a grasp enough so that you can represent yourself, and I think you've actually been making some points. I think even you, yourself, have to contrast your ability to question and make decisions with the ability of Mr. Greenspun and Mr. Shapiro. I've seen them in court. I think that they are more effective - and I think you'll have to agree - to try this. They've got fifty-some years of experience between the two of them. This is the first opportunity we've had. I wanted you to think again about whether you want to continue to represent yourself.

Muhammad: I never - I never had any doubt that they could.

Millette: You never had any doubt in their ability. I know you don't. In fact, you've always told me you're satisfied with them and that you're not dissatisfied at all; and now with this situation, even though you've been able to make an opening statement and to question some witnesses, I'm concerned about your ability to do other things that lawyers have to do. Spent a lot of money developing - having investigators developing witnesses. I'm not sure that you can effectively call witnesses. I have another concern about your ability to put on a case if we get to the sentencing phase of the trial. I just don't think you have the understanding of how to go about doing it. It's quite difficult to ask questions of witnesses on cross-examination. It's kind of difficult to present evidence effectively. I want you to consider that. I want you to consider real carefully whether you do want to continue to represent yourself. I was going to ask you this even before you told me about your problem.

Muhammad: Yes, your honor.

Millette: OK. Well, let's go through a couple of things. The first thing is this. If I let them take over the case again, I'm not going to let you change again and represent yourself. I told you before that once the trial starts, it's going to be at the court's discretion as to whether you can represent yourself or not. When you asked before, it was at the very beginning of the trial; and you told me you had been thinking about it for several months; and that's the main reason why I let you represent yourself. Now, if they take over this case, they stay as counsel the rest of the way. Do you understand that? We're not going to switch back again.

Muhammad: Yes, your honor.

Millette: OK. The second question is, Are you making this decision solely because of your physical problem that you have or - whatever your physical problem is or because you think it's in your best interest to have them represent you?

Muhammad: The latter.

Millette: You think it's in your best interest for them to represent you?

Muhammad: Yes.