Costly Sniper Trial Set To Begin

Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad, center, is led into a Prince William County Courtroom by Sheriff's deputies at the start of a hearing in Manassas, Va., Monday June 30, 2003. A judge Monday rejected a defense request seeking dismissal of one of the indictments against sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad based on claims that the state's new anti-terrorism capital murder law is too vague. AP

The D.C.-area sniper case could have the most expensive court-appointed defense in the history of Virginia. Public attorneys in the have billed taxpayers nearly $900,000, even before the first trial opens tomorrow.

But the question is can any defense, no matter what the price, overcome the evidence?

If John Allen Muhammad, and later his alleged sidekick Lee Boyd Malvo are ever found guilty of the Beltway sniper attacks, prosecutors can thank their lucky stars for one thing, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart. Both men were incurable pack rats.

The clunky old Chevrolet Caprice the two men are accused of using as a sniper-mobile proved to be a treasure trove of evidence.

As the first of the trials get underway, it is the items found in the car that loom largest against the men, especially the Bushmaster rifle used in the shootings. A brown glove matching another found at one of the 10 murder scenes was also recovered, plus a laptop computer containing a virtual diary of the slayings.

And that's just the start. Ballistics tests positively match the rifle to most of the shootings. There's also a videotape of Mohammed near a shooting site. A witness places he and Malvo at the site of another shooting near a middle school. And to top it off, the teenage Malvo has talked to investigators, a lot.

"I think it's a slam dunk because there is a circumstantial case against Muhammad," says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "There is no sympathy for him with potential jurors, and it's going to be very difficult for him to point the finger at the younger defendant and say 'The younger defendant made me do it.'"

Muhammad will be tried initially for just one of the murders, that of Dean Harold Meyers, a civil engineer who survived an ambush in Vietnam only to be gunned down while filling his car in Prince William County, Va., the town where, coincidentally, prosecutor Paul Ebert has sent more men to death row that any other chief DA in Virginia.

In order to get the death penalty, Ebert will try this case under an untested law originally intended to prosecute terrorists. He defended his decision in an interview for 60 Minutes II.

When asked about his decision to try the case using the terrorist law, he said, "I think, strangely, this case fits the bill, and we'll see whether or not the court agrees with that."

Jury selection begins tomorrow morning. The trial is expected to take about six weeks. Malvo's trial, meanwhile, begins Nov. 10.
  • Lloyd Vries

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