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Sniper Case

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Rita Simon
University Professor, School of Public Affairs and Washington College of Law, American University
Tuesday, October 14, 2003; 3:00 PM

The trial of John Allen Muhammad, 42, begins Tuesday, Oct. 14, with jury selection in Virginia Beach. The first capital murder trial in the string of 10 sniper slayings that occurred in the Washington region last October will deal with the Oct. 9, 2002 slaying of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a gas station north of Manassas. (Lee Boyd Malvo, Muhammad's alleged co-conspirator, is scheduled for his first trial next month.)

Prosecutors and defense attorneys say selection is expected to last much of the week.

Rita Simon, university professor in the School of Public Affairs and Washington College of Law at American University, was online Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the jury selection process.

Simon is author of "The Jury System: Its Role in American Society," "The Jury and the Defense of Insanity," "The Ambivalent Welcome: Print Media, Public Opinion and Immigration" and many other books on justice, law and society. She also writes and comments for major media about the U.S. jury system, social and political issues, human rights, transracial and intercountry adoption, immigration and women's issues.

Muhammad and Malvo have been charged in all 10 sniper slayings that occurred in the Washington region last October.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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washingtonpost.com: Rita Simon, welcome back to washingtonpost.com. The sniper trial has begun. Today begins jury selection. How hard will it be to select a nonpartial jury in John Allen Muhammad's case?

Rita Simon: I think it will be difficult, in part because even though they moved the jurisdiction to a place where potential jurors might not be directly impacted, nevertheless it was a case that received an enormous amount of publicity and therefore it will be difficult for jurors not to remember and be influenced by what they heard and saw in the media. And in fact, almost any place in the country where this trial might be have been held the jurors would have been inundated with an enormous amount of pre-trial publicity.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: An attorney once stated that trials are won and lost during jury selection. During voir dire, he seeks people he connects with to sit on the jury. Is jury selection really that important? If so, where is the justice in the justice system if trials are really games in which victory goes to which lawyers make the better presentation?


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