ROCKVILLE, Md. – Amid complaints from sniper John Allen Muhammad over irrevocable bias among prospective jurors, the slow process of choosing a panel resumed Wednesday for his second trial.
Most of the nearly 150 people examined by the judge through Tuesday said they believed Muhammad was guilty. But those who said they could still render a fair verdict despite holding such opinions were chosen for a pool from which 12 jurors and four alternates will be picked Thursday.
"In my experience, I've learned a lot about human beings, and human beings just don't flip-flop like that on a moment's notice," said Muhammad, who is acting as his own attorney.
Circuit Judge James Ryan agreed to examine people more closely and he excused several people who said their minds were irrevocably made up.
One of them, Virginia Cain, 54, a demographer from Potomac, told Ryan she accepted in principle the concept that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty but "I just have difficulty applying it in this case."
Muhammad also sought in vain to have victims' family members excluded from the gallery, arguing the jury could be swayed "if they start crying or having an outburst." Ryan refused.
Muhammad is on trial for six sniper shootings in 2002 in Montgomery County, where a shooting spree by him and Lee Boyd Malvo, his younger accomplice, began and ended.
Muhammad, 45, and Malvo, 21, were both convicted of sniper shootings in Virginia; Muhammad was sentenced to death while Malvo got a life term. Neither faces the death penalty in Maryland.
Overall, ten people were killed and three others were wounded in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The pair also have been linked to killings in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Washington state.
Muhammad learned Tuesday that Malvo is prepared to testify for the prosecution against him. Malvo will likely plead guilty to the same Montgomery County killings, a person familiar with the case said Tuesday. In return, Malvo would be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
A formal plea deal hasn't yet been reached, and the source said if Malvo is to testify, it would probably come at the end of the five-week trial. The person familiar with the case spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not complete.
Malvo's attorneys did not return calls seeking comment and Montgomery County prosecutors would not comment on the possible plea agreement.
Muhammad's standby attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said Muhammad wasn't surprised about the potential deal, since Malvo is on both Muhammad's witness list and the prosecution's list. Gordon said Malvo would not be credible if he cuts a deal with prosecutors.
Gordon said Muhammad is prepared to cross-examine Malvo if he is called to testify by prosecutors. And despite the fact Malvo may take the stand against him, Muhammad is not angry.
"Mr. Muhammad harbors no ill feelings for Mr. Malvo," Gordon said.