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Judge Moves Sniper Trial to Va. Beach

July 16, 2003

MANASSAS, Va. (AP) _ The trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad will be moved 200 miles from Prince William County to Virginia Beach to ensure a fair trial, a judge ruled.

Circuit Judge LeRoy Millette said it ``has been clearly shown that such a change of venue is necessary.″ He also noted that prosecutors had withdrawn their objection to the defense request for the move. His one-page ruling, dated Tuesday, was issued early Wednesday.

Millette’s decision means that neither Muhammad nor fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo will face trial in the Washington suburbs, which were terrorized during a three-week spree of fatal shootings in October.

Muhammad, 42, is charged in the Oct. 9 slaying of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a gas station. Malvo, 18, is facing trial in the Oct. 14 shooting in Fairfax County of Linda Franklin, 47. Both could face the death penalty.

Muhammad and Malvo have been linked to 20 shootings, including 13 killings, in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors have said the killings in metropolitan Washington were part of a scheme to extort $10 million from the government.

Earlier this month, the judge in the Malvo case, Jane Marum Roush, moved his trial from Fairfax County to Chesapeake, which is adjacent to Virginia Beach. Roush agreed with defense lawyers who argued that every resident of Fairfax County could be considered a victim in the case because of the intense fear that gripped the area during the spree.

The defense lawyers in the Muhammad case made a similar argument. Initially, Prince William County prosecutor Paul Ebert had opposed a change in venue, saying that an impartial jury could be found. But Ebert changed his mind after Roush moved the Malvo trial, saying that it would be inconsistent to move one trial and not the other.

Millette, in his decision Wednesday, cited the prosecution’s reversal in moving the trial.

Muhammad is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 14, while Malvo’s trial is scheduled for Nov. 10. There is a good chance the trials will overlap, and having them in neighboring cities might reduce problems in coordinating them.

Virginia Beach, a city of 425,000, has similar racial demographics to Prince William County, with a population of 281,000. Both localities have a 19 percent black population, according to the 2000 Census.

Unlike Chesapeake, where officials had publicly expressed misgivings against moving Malvo’s trial there, Virginia Beach welcomed Muhammad’s trial.

``By my calculation, we have 62 working days to be ready for trial. Will we be? Absolutely,″ Paula Miller, a spokeswoman for Virginia Beach Sheriff Paul J. Lanteigne, said Tuesday.

Miller said Millette had visited Virginia Beach and its court complex and ``was impressed with our cooperative nature and the security features that are in place.″

Chesapeake, home to roughly 200,000 residents, has a substantially larger black population than Fairfax _ 27 percent, to 9 percent in Fairfax. Both Muhammad and Malvo are black.

Both cities are part of the military- and port-dominated region of Hampton Roads, the nation’s 27th largest metropolitan area, with more than 1.5 million residents.


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Court clerk’s office: http://www.pwcgov.com/ccourt/

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