ROCKVILLE, Md. – Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad grew increasingly frustrated as he and prosecutors questioned potential jurors Monday for his second trial in the Washington-area shootings that terrorized two states in the fall of 2002.
It was hard to find anyone who didn't already believe he was responsible for the crimes, and Muhammad, acting as his own attorney, objected to most of them.
About 25 prospective jurors out of a pool of 300 came in front of Montgomery Circuit Court Judge James Ryan on Monday, and almost all said they had formed an opinion about the case.
They had seen it on television, read about it in the newspapers, their children had been forced to stay inside at school during the three weeks the snipers were on the loose, and then there was the fear triggered by the random killing spree that picked out strangers as targets. One woman wept as she said she regularly used a gas station where one shooting occurred.
Another excused juror said she lived across from a shooting scene in Silver Spring.
"It happened right around my old job, right around my house," said Quinn McCreary, 24. "It was right in my face."
Muhammad — already sentenced to death for a sniper killing in Virginia — sat at the defense table, staring at possible jurors as they were called for individual questioning.
Each had filled out a form based on 32 questions, including their opinion of the case, whether they thought they could still be fair and whether they had experience with guns like the Bushmaster rifle used in the killings.
As more people said they believed he was guilty, Muhammad grew more frustrated. He objected to most, saying they couldn't be fair to him. He asked the judge to strike all potential jurors who "have a preconceived notion" about his guilt.
"These are not feelings these people accumulated in moments," Muhammad said. "We're talking years. Their mind is made up before they even come in that door."
The judge pressed prospective jurors about whether they could put those beliefs aside and what they knew from media accounts to weigh evidence presented in court.
At the end of Monday, 21 people were chosen to go to final jury selection Thursday. The rest of the 300 people in the pool were to be interviewed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, 21, both face six murder charges in Maryland for the sniper killings. Malvo's trial is scheduled for the fall.
In all, 10 people were killed and three wounded in the three-week spree. Muhammad was sentenced to death for the Virginia killing, and Malvo faces life in prison.
The morning jury selection for Muhammad's trial was interrupted at one point by a man, who launched an obscenity-laced tirade from the court audience.
"I hope you rot in hell," said the man, who said he was a cousin of Conrad Johnson, a bus driver who became the last sniper victim on Oct. 22, 2002.
"You see what I was telling you; that is why we have so much security," Judge Ryan told Muhammad as deputies dragged the man out of the courtroom. "It's not just for everybody else, it's for you, too."
"That's America, your honor. Freedom of speech," Muhammad replied.
In a hearing Monday before jury selection began, Muhammad also presented a last-minute handwritten list of more witnesses he wanted to call. Ryan warned him he had missed a deadline to have witnesses subpoenaed but agreed to review those from Maryland and give Muhammad another chance to say why his out-of-state witnesses were relevant.
Ryan also objected to an attempt by the Montgomery County public defender's office, which previously represented Muhammad, to submit a letter from a psychiatrist that suggested Muhammad is bipolar. Annapolis psychiatrist David Williamson said he believed Muhammad is not competent to stand trial.
Muhammad had claimed in an earlier hearing that Williamson had not found any problems with him. Paul DeWolfe, the Montgomery public defender and Muhammad's former attorney, said that was further evidence that Ryan should have allowed a competency hearing before allowing Muhammad to represent himself.
Ryan refused to add the Williamson letter to Muhammad's case file, saying it was inappropriate for the public defender to send it.