Malvo murder trial begins in Va. with jury selection

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Teen-age sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo began the fight for his life yesterday, answering "not guilty" in court to two charges of capital murder - the beginning of a trial expected to last six to nine weeks.

Malvo's answers to Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush were crisp and short, as he replied "yes, ma'am" to about 15 routine questions and told the judge he had completed 11th grade.

Lawyers began the painstaking process of paring the 151-person jury pool to 12 jurors and four alternates for this high-profile trial of the younger of the two sniper suspects, a Jamaican-born youth who is pleading insanity.

Seven people, three men and four women, made the first cut in jury selection, which is likely to continue through tomorrow.

Jurors will see evidence and hear testimony concerning 13 shootings around the country - including the one for which the 18-year-old is on trial.

He is charged with gunning down FBI analyst Linda Franklin on Oct. 14, 2002, in the parking lot of a Home Depot store in one of Fairfax County's busiest commercial districts. If convicted, he could be executed.

Well-dressed, attentive

Yesterday was the first time in a year that Malvo has appeared in a Virginia court not wearing a jail jumpsuit. He was attired as a clean-cut teen-ager, in a blue crew-neck sweater with four off-white stripes over a white shirt and dark slacks.

Craig S. Cooley, one of Malvo's court-appointed lawyers, said later that he and his wife chose age-appropriate clothes for his client - not to make Malvo appear young, but to have him respectfully and comfortably attired for court.

Attentive in court, he chatted with his attorneys, wrote on a legal pad and closely watched the proceedings. Occasionally, however, he seemed to smile for no apparent reason.

In coming weeks, jurors might hear testimony from John Allen Muhammad, who is on trial in neighboring Virginia Beach and who the defense alleges brainwashed Malvo.

Defense lawyers said they have also subpoenaed Muhammad's ex-wife, Mildred, who lived in Clinton, Md., with the couple's three children at the time Muhammad and Malvo were arrested Oct. 24, 2002.

Muhammad had spirited the children away to Antigua, and when she reclaimed them, a Washington state judge said the fearful woman did not have to tell Muhammad where she was moving.

Cooley said he believed Mildred Muhammad would be "able to describe the manipulative nature of Mr. Muhammad."

He also said he is still hopeful that Una James, Malvo's mother, who was deported from the United States to Jamaica, will be able to testify.

She refused to get on a plane to come to Muhammad's trial.

Prosecution witnesses

More than 100 witnesses have been subpoenaed by Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. and his deputy, Raymond F. Morrogh, and the five-lawyer defense team.

Yesterday, potential jurors were asked a battery of questions, such as whether they opposed the death penalty and whether they could be open-minded despite extensive pretrial publicity.

Lawyers for each side then asked more pointed questions.

Cooley asked jurors whether they would be biased against Malvo for being brought to the United States illegally by Muhammad and for converting to a type of Islam "unique to Mr. Muhammad, perhaps."

Earlier, Roush excused 41 of 42 potential jurors who said serving would be a hardship. Most said they cared for young children or ailing older relatives, or ran their own small businesses, or would lose a semester of college or had plane tickets. One cited religious reasons, saying he believed it was sinful to sit in judgment.

The trial was moved to Chesapeake, a city outside Norfolk, to try to find jurors whose lives were not affected by the sniper rampage last fall that claimed 10 lives in the Washington area.

So far, interest in the 28 courtroom seats available to the public has been weak.

Of three people registered for yesterday, only one showed up, and she appeared to doze off during the proceedings.

Officials said no one signed up for today's session.