Death Penalty Question Part of Sniper Suspect Jury Selection

Potential jurors in the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad (search) were questioned about their views on the death penalty Wednesday and asked whether they were terrorized by the crimes.

Defense lawyers had predicted jury selection would be difficult because of the heavy publicity surrounding last October's Washington-area killing spree, in which 10 people were killed. However, the first eight people questioned were all held to be qualified to serve as jurors.

Thirteen jurors in all were qualified to serve on the trial Wednesday, while two were excluded. The judge must qualify an additional 14 jurors to reach a panel of 27. Then prosecutors and defense attorneys can each strike six jurors, for nearly any reason they choose, leaving a jury of 12 plus three alternates.

Most potential jurors reported limited exposure to news coverage of the attacks and the case against Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo (search), who goes on trial separately next month.

Most said they experienced little fear because the shootings were far from Virginia Beach.

"If it would've gotten closer to home, I'm sure I would've taken extra precautions," said one woman, Juror 389.

All jurors were identified by number to protect their privacy.

Muhammad's trial was moved about 200 miles to this southeastern Virginia city after defense lawyers argued that every northern Virginia resident could be considered a victim because the shootings caused widespread fear.

Muhammad, 42, is charged in the slaying of 53-year-old Dean Harold Meyers (search), who was cut down by a bullet that struck him in the head as he filled up at a gas station near Manassas.

By the pace of Wednesday's proceedings, it appeared likely a jury would be impaneled by late Thursday or early Friday. Prosecutor Paul Ebert said he expected opening arguments to begin Monday, even if jury selection concludes Thursday. Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. (search) will have to rule on last-minute pretrial motions before opening statements.

One prospective juror said she would have a hard time imposing a death sentence. "I would rather not have it on my conscience," she said, adding later that she would follow the court's instructions.

Ebert tried to have her struck from the panel, but the judge sided with the defense and approved the woman.

One man who seemed reluctant to impose the death penalty was disqualified at prosecutors' request, while a woman who said she had initially assumed Muhammad was guilty because of news reports was disqualified at the request of the defense.

Malvo, 18, goes on trial Nov. 10 in neighboring Chesapeake in the slaying of an FBI analyst.