PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY
Sniper Judge Is Named to Appeals Court
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The judge who oversaw the first trial of Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad was named yesterday to the Virginia Court of Appeals, and officials said his handling of the case played a key role in the appointment.
Prince William County Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. "stood up under heavy scrutiny during a very high-profile trial," said Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who named Millette to an eight-year term.
If the longtime jurist is confirmed by the Virginia General Assembly, he will be the first lawyer from Prince William to serve on the state's second-highest court, Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert and other veteran Prince William lawyers said.
The Court of Appeals handles most criminal appeals from circuit courts before they go to the Virginia Supreme Court. Millette, 58, would replace James Benton, a Richmond-based judge who retired.
Millette also stood out among 10 candidates for the breadth of his experience -- which includes 17 years as a judge, 12 years as a defense attorney and four years as a prosecutor -- and his high recommendations by statewide bar associations, Hickey said. That experience included overseeing part of what was then Prince William's most highly publicized case: the 1993 trial of John Wayne Bobbitt for allegedly raping his wife, Lorena, who severed her husband's penis. John Bobbitt was acquitted.
But it was Millette's even-handed approach to the 2003 sniper trial that helped seal his legacy, prosecutors and defense lawyers said yesterday. During one key moment, Millette summoned Muhammad to the bench minutes before opening statements were to start after Muhammad had stunned the courtroom by declaring that he wanted to represent himself.
That would be a "tremendous mistake," the judge told him, according to a transcript of the 2003 bench conference. Muhammad lacked the necessary experience and would not be allowed to use the trial as a soapbox, Millette warned.
Then, after listening to Muhammad's side, the judge granted his request. Muhammad later relinquished control of his case to his attorneys and was convicted on two counts of capital murder in the slaying of Dean H. Meyers outside a Prince William gas station. Meyers was the 12th of 16 people shot over 47 days in September and October 2002 in four states and the District, shootings that terrified the Washington region.
"He handled that case very well, and he got a lot of acclaim nationally for it," Ebert said of Millette.
Peter Greenspun, an attorney for Muhammad, agreed that Millette has been "an excellent judge. He's a credit to the circuit court bench, and no doubt he will also be a credit to the court of appeals." Greenspun declined to comment on the Muhammad case because it is in the appeals process.
William Stephens, a longtime Manassas criminal lawyer, said Millette "certainly did an outstanding job on the Muhammad case" and is widely respected among defense lawyers.
A Circuit Court judge since 1993, Millette was earlier a Prince William General District Court judge. He lives in the county and is married with two children.
Millette said yesterday that his new job, which he applied for, will be an adjustment. "I've been a lawyer for almost 34 years and have been in court almost every day of that trying cases," he said. "The court of appeals is very different. You don't see people anymore. You read transcripts."
He added: "I'm excited. I think it will be interesting work."
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.