Muhammad Questions Fairness of Maryland Trial

By Eric Rich and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 23, 2006

An increasingly agitated John Allen Muhammad complained yesterday that his ability to get a fair trial in Maryland was in jeopardy as prosecutors introduced a computer file -- a map marked with skull and crossbones icons -- linking him to the 2002 sniper rampage that claimed 10 lives in the Washington area.

An FBI computer analyst testified that the map, retrieved from a stolen laptop found in Muhammad's possession at the time of his arrest, contained travel routes to the locations where victims were shot or killed, some of which were marked with the icon. Where Linda Franklin was fatally shot in the head, at a Home Depot in Fairfax County, the map also contained a notation: "Good one."

The evidence was presented in a Rockville courtroom as prosecutors neared the conclusion of the case they have been building against Muhammad on charges of murder in six slayings in Montgomery County. Muhammad, 45, has been sentenced to death in Virginia.

Alleged accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo is expected to appear as a witness today, setting the stage for an unusual courtroom confrontation made even more unusual because Muhammad is acting as his own attorney. Although prosecutors have not said they will call Malvo, who also is charged with murder in Maryland, Montgomery Chief Sheriff's Deputy Darren Popkin said prosecutors asked his office to transport Malvo to the courthouse this morning.

Prosecutors contend that the laptop was stolen when Paul J. La Ruffa was shot and robbed Sept. 5 in the parking lot of a restaurant in Clinton. Through his questions, Muhammad implied that the laptop found in his car was not La Ruffa's and that there is insufficient evidence to connect him to the shooting.

"Isn't it true that I'm not being charged in the theft of the computer or the shooting of Mr. La Ruffa?" he asked the computer analyst, John Hair.

But his questions allowed the jury to hear more about the La Ruffa shooting than they otherwise would have. Under questioning from Assistant State's Attorney Vivek Chopra, Hair then said Muhammad and Malvo were identified as the perpetrators of that crime.

Muhammad clashed with prosecutors over whether he will be permitted to subpoena a witness who had already testified for the state -- a bank employee who said she had seen Muhammad's Chevrolet Caprice near one of the Virginia shooting scenes.

Muhammad, who has seemed increasingly distressed as the trial has progressed, accused the prosecutors of undermining his ability to defend himself by blocking him from calling witnesses. While Chopra argued that the witness had already been cross-examined and could add nothing more, Muhammad described the prosecutors as having "grand jury syndrome."

"They don't want the jury to hear anything but their side," Muhammad said. If he is unable to subpoena the witnesses of his choosing, he told the judge, "you could send me the verdict in the mail."

Judge James L. Ryan did not immediately rule. He has barred the prosecutors and the standby attorneys advising Muhammad from discussing the case publicly.

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