MANASSAS, Va. – Prosecutors reversed course Friday and said they support moving the murder trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad (search) out of the Washington suburbs.
Prosecutor Paul Ebert said it would be inconsistent to leave the trial in Manassas, given that the judge in the case of fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo (search) changed the venue in that case last week.
Circuit Judge Leroy F. Millette Jr. did not rule on the defense motion to move the case, but said he would soon. He could still keep the case in Manassas, but now neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys want the trial there.
Ebert said he still believes an impartial jury can be seated in Manassas, but said, "I believe it would be inconsistent" with the decision in the Malvo case.
Jane Marum Roush, the judge in Malvo's case, last week moved the trial from Fairfax County to the city of Chesapeake (search) in southeastern Virginia, about 200 miles away. Roush ruled that the wave of fear that gripped the Washington area during last year's sniper spree would make it impossible to find an impartial jury in Fairfax.
Millette also rejected a motion to dismiss one of the capital murder counts against Muhammad that is based on the state's new antiterrorism law, which defines terrorism in part as an attempt to intimidate the civilian population.
Defense lawyer Jonathan Shapiro (search) argued it would be impossible to seat an impartial jury when the entire jury pool is considered a victim based on the language of the law.
"How do you provide a jury from a pool of targets of the defendant?" Shapiro asked.
But Millette agreed with prosecutors, who said Shapiro's notion that everyone could be considered a victim was overly broad.
"Not everybody was intimidated. Not everybody was a victim," Ebert said.
Defense lawyers also have apparently dropped their request for a trial by judge instead of jury. The defense team had initially requested a bench trial, saying it would be impossible to find an impartial jury anywhere in Virginia.
But the defense withdrew the motion after prosecutors said they would be inclined to support it. The defense team has not raised the issue since then, retooling their argument into the motion to dismiss that Millet rejected Friday.
Muhammad sat silently through Friday's hearing.
Muhammad, 42, and Malvo, 18, have been linked to 20 shootings, including 13 deaths, in Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. Both face the death penalty.