Muhammad 'Psychotic,' Medical Assessment Says

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sniper John Allen Muhammad is not competent to stand trial, his attorneys argued in a motion filed yesterday along with a psychiatric evaluation that says the defendant should not be allowed to defend himself during his murder trial because he is "psychotic, delusional" and "paranoid."

The report -- the first public disclosure of a mental health expert's assessment of the sniper's mind -- was filed a day before Muhammad is scheduled to appear before a judge in Rockville to explain why he wants to fire his attorneys and defend himself during his Montgomery County trial, which is scheduled to start May 1.

Yale University psychiatrist Dorothy O. Lewis, the defense expert who interviewed Muhammad twice in September 2003 and for four hours Monday, said the sniper told her that he is innocent and believes "his arrest was the result of an elaborate scheme to frame him for the murders."

She wrote that Muhammad told her he also believes Lee Boyd Malvo -- his alleged accomplice in the series of slayings committed with a high-powered rifle in October 2002 -- was "fed information by the police and forced to make a false confession."

Lewis wrote that Muhammad's judgment and ability to think logically are "severely compromised" by brain dysfunction and that he probably suffers from "schizo-affective schizophrenia."

Muhammad has refused to assist his attorneys -- Montgomery public defender Paul DeWolfe and his deputy, Brian D. Shefferman -- and says that he can't share his "secret defense strategy" with his attorneys because "they cannot be trusted," Lewis wrote.

Montgomery Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan will have to tackle the competency issue before deciding whether to allow Muhammad to represent himself -- a request he made in a handwritten letter delivered to the judge this month.

People in criminal proceedings have a constitutional right to represent themselves at trial, but to sign off on such requests, judges need to find that the defendant is competent and is making the decision knowingly and voluntarily.

Ryan could rule on the competency motion today, but he might choose to have Muhammad examined by an independent psychiatrist before deciding whether he's fit to stand trial; Lewis was hired by Muhammad's defense attorneys.

Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree declined to comment on the motion yesterday. DeWolfe said the "report speaks for itself with respect for his competence to stand trial and his competence to waive counsel."

Maryland prosecutors hope to convince a jury that Muhammad was the architect of the sniper shootings, six of which occurred in Montgomery. Muhammad, 45, and Malvo, 21, were each convicted of one killing in separate trials in Virginia in 2003. Muhammad has been sentenced to death and Malvo to life in prison without the possibility of parole in that state.

Maryland prosecutors say a second set of convictions would give relatives of the people shot in Montgomery a taste of justice and secure the defendants' uninterrupted incarceration in case the Virginia convictions were overturned.

Lewis, the psychiatrist, wrote that Muhammad has no clear defense strategy. When asked how he would strike back at the overwhelming amount of evidence prosecutors could introduce to link him to the six slayings, he told her: "One piece at a time . . . you take all the pieces and add them up as a total."

During Monday's interview, Muhammad seemed paranoid, Lewis wrote. He insisted that his attorneys were withholding information that was key to his defense and told her: "It was never my intention to be represented by an attorney."

She wrote that Muhammad had short spurts of lucidity during their two interviews in September but that his behavior deteriorated unpredictably and that he rambled and made "inappropriate" requests, such as examining the physician's fingers and cuticles.

She said he became delusional when asked whether friends and relatives visited him and began speaking about people he knew in China and Russia. He told her that he had been in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell but that "the history books lied" about the date, Lewis wrote.

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