Attorneys for sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad moved yesterday to rule out a trial by jury, arguing that it would be a "legal impossibility" to find a fair panel because the entire juror pool was victimized by last fall's shootings.
In Prince William County, Va., where Muhammad, 42, is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 14, prosecutors can require a jury trial. It was unclear last night how prosecutors would respond, although they have previously said they believe they can find an unbiased jury.
If prosecutors insist on a jury trial, then defense attorneys said they would ask to have the trial moved elsewhere. But they acknowledged that residents of every county in Virginia could be considered victims of the shootings that took 10 lives in the Washington area last fall.
"It is undeniable that the jurors will come to the trial with feelings that they were personally harmed by the alleged acts," defense lawyers Jonathan Shapiro and Peter D. Greenspun wrote in the motion filed yesterday. "Each one will have felt the fear that plagued the community during the series of random shootings attributed to the accused."
They did not suggest where it might be possible to find an impartial jury.
The motion was one of five filed by Muhammad's lawyers yesterday. They also moved to dismiss the indictment under Virginia's terrorism law because the state constitution does not specifically define what kind of conduct constitutes an act of terrorism.
Muhammad - who with Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, has been linked to 13 sniper shootings in the area - was indicted in Prince William on two counts of capital murder, one of them under a law passed in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Muhammad is the first person in Virginia to face trial under the terrorism law. His lawyers say the law is so vague as to allow an arbitrary application of the death penalty and is, therefore, unconstitutional.
The law defines an act of terrorism as one that is intended to "intimidate the civilian population at large." By trying Muhammad under the terrorism law, prosecutors in effect are saying that the entire county is a victim, the defense lawyers said. By extension, they said, no one in the county could serve on a jury.
Muhammad is being tried in the Oct. 9 shooting death of Dean H. Meyers at a Manassas gas station. His next court appearance is set for June 30.