Combative Sniper Suspect Appears in Court
Monday, March 6, 2006; 1:57 PM
A combative John Allen Muhammad came to court Monday with a list of complaints, including allegations that jailers have restricted his access to court documents in his trial for six Washington-area sniper shootings, disagreements with his attorneys over legal filings and claims he has been denied long underwear to wear in court.
Muhammad, who was transferred to Montgomery County last summer from Virginia, where he has been sentenced to death, also lost a pair of pretrial motions during the hearing in advance of his scheduled May 1 trial.
Circuit Judge John Ryan granted a request from county prosecutors to present evidence of other shootings Muhammad and accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo are accused of carrying out before and during the three-week long October 2002 shooting spree in the Washington region.
Ryan also blocked a request by Muhammad's attorneys to hold separate trials for some of the six murders that occurred in Montgomery County, the first on Oct. 2 and the last on Oct. 22, 2002. When the motion was first presented in court, Muhammad cut short his court-appointed lawyer, saying he never agreed to filing the motion.
"I ask for that motion not to be put in," he said before the motion was heard. "I disagree with it 100 percent, your honor."
Throughout his legal process that began with his 2003 murder trial, conviction and death sentence in Virginia, Muhammad has actively inserted himself into his defense. Shortly before his first trial began, he briefly dismissed his lawyers and handled his own case, making an opening statement and questioning some witnesses. He eventually allowed his lawyers to return.
In court Monday, Montgomery corrections officials testified that Muhammad has seven boxes of legal documents that he brought with him from Virginia. He worked out an agreement with his jailers that gives him access to the material, but he complained prison officials only give him limited records at a time. He said he needed to review much of it at the same time.
"I asked for access to all the material," he said. "All of the quote-unquote crimes that I committed occurred together."
Robert Green, warden of Montgomery County jail, testified that Muhammad has adequate access to his records. Judge Ryan agreed after hearing both arguments.
Prosecutors claim Muhammad and Malvo tried to extort $10 million from local governments during their spree. In all, they are accused of 18 killings and woundings in Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.
Malvo was also convicted in Virginia and sentenced to life in prison. He is scheduled to go on trial in Montgomery County in the fall for the same six murders. Malvo is not eligible for a death sentence because he was 17 when the murders occurred, and prosecutors said last week they will not seek a death sentence for Muhammad in Maryland.
Sheriff's deputies brought Muhammad into court with shackles on his ankles and wrists, taking his handcuffs off only after his attorneys objected. Six deputies stood near him in the well of the court.
Muhammad's hair has grown bushy, and he now wears a goatee and mustache. A deputy said he has been offered T-shirt and underwear, but that he refused. Muhammad said he was cold, even once pulling his arms inside his sleeves.
"I've been frostbit on my face. ... I've been frostbit on my hands. I'm very sensitive to cold," he complained.