The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a review to a convicted murderer sentenced to die in Virginia's electric chair for the 1988 killing of a Dale City carpet store owner.
Dawud Majid Mu'Min, 37, is scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court on Feb. 20. Mu'Min's attorney, John Blume of South Carolina, will argue the case along with Assistant State Attorney General John McLees.
The high court will render a decision on the matter between Feb. 27 and the end of the current judicial term.
The high court granted Mu'Min a review in January in response to a 40-page writ filed claiming that his Sixth, Eighth and 14th amendment rights had been violated in his April 1989 trial.
According to Blume, Mu'Min claimed that Prince William County Circuit Court Judge H. Selwyn Smith had limited his defense attorneys in their questioning of potential jurors who might have been prejudiced because of pre-trial publicity.
"The issue in this case is whether because of the unique nature of the crime and the amount of the publicity in the case, if the defense attorneys should have been allowed to question jurors about exactly what they had heard," Blume said. "The issue has to do with the adverse pre-trial publicity and whether that might have influenced jurors."
Mu'Min was convicted in a three-day trial of the murder of Gladys Keene Nopwasky, 42, who was found in her Dale City Floors store on Dale Boulevard Sept. 22, 1988.
The jury recommended that Smith sentence Mu'Min to die in the electric chair for his crime; Smith upheld the recommendation and sent Mu'Min to death row two months later.
At the time of Nopwasky's killing, Mu'Min was serving a 48-year sentence for the murder in 1973 of a Grayson County taxi driver.
He was assigned to the Haymarket Correctional Unit and on the day of the killing, Mu'Min was assigned to a work detail supervised by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
According to a brief filed by the State Attorney General's Office, Mu'Min had fashioned a weapon by using grinding equipment at a transportation department facility to make a metal spike, which he affixed to a wood handle. He left the work crew about noon, apparently by walking away, unbeknownst to those who were supposed to supervise him.
An investigation after the killing indicated that workers on the crews were sometimes improperly supervised and led the state to suspend its furlough program for violent offenders.
The highway work program was also restricted to rural communities and violent criminals are no longer allowed to participate.
The brief states that Mu'Min "confronted" Nopwasky, "knocked her to the floor . . . then savagely attacked her with the sharp instrument he had fashioned, took $4 from a desk drawer near her body, wiped his fingerprints off objects and left.
"Her face was so badly beaten and bloodied that she was unrecognizable," the brief states.
Nopwasky's slaying shocked the Prince William community, where fewer than six homicides occur most years. The case received wide-spread publicity because of the cruelty of the crime and the fact that Mu'Min had previously been convicted of murder.
Before the trial, Mu'Min submitted 47 newspaper stories that had been written about the case, and asked for a change of venue, which was denied, records show.
Mu'Min's attorneys also asked for individual questioning of potential jurors, which was also denied.
According to the brief, the trial court refused to allow the following questions: What have you seen, read or heard about this case? From whom or what did you get this information? When and where did you get this information? Has anyone expressed any opinion about this case to you?
The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the conviction 4 to 3. The three dissenting judges at that time faulted Smith for not allowing more in-depth questioning of potential jurors.