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Jury Seated For Sniper Trial

A jury of 12 was seated Friday for the capital murder trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad, setting the stage for opening statements on Monday.

The jury that will decide the fate of the 42-year-old Army veteran is made up of 10 women and five men, 13 whites and two blacks. It includes a retired Navy pilot, a bartender, an eighth-grade teacher, a stay-at-home mom, a hardware store employee and a design engineer.

The panel, and three alternates, were culled from a pool of 123 people, with prospective jurors questioned individually about their views on the death penalty, their exposure to news coverage of the case, and whether they felt terrorized by last year's sniper spree that left 10 people dead in the Washington, D.C., area.

The jury was selected over four days.

The jurors were again warned to avoid any publicity about the case, including a made-for-TV movie scheduled to air Friday night on cable.

The case — the first trial to come out of the crime spree — was moved about 200 miles from the Washington area to this southeastern Virginia city after defense lawyers argued that every northern Virginia resident could be considered a victim because the shootings caused such widespread fear.

Muhammad is charged in the slaying last October of Dean Harold Meyers, who was cut down by a single bullet that hit him in the head as he filled up his tank at a gas station in Manassas.

Muhammad pleaded innocent earlier this week. He could get the death penalty if convicted.

Jury selection began after Muhammad entered his plea. Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. excused 53 of 124 potential jurors, mostly because work or personal reasons prevented them from sitting through a trial expected to last six weeks.

Prosecutors have said the sniper attacks were part of a plot to extort $10 million from the government.

Among those who could be in the courtroom Monday is the second sniper suspect, 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo.

Michael Arif, one of Malvo's attorneys, told The Washington Post that prosecutors obtained a subpoena for him to appear at Muhammad's trial.

Malvo invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at a pretrial hearing in Muhammad's case. But Malvo's appearance at Muhammad's trial would allow witnesses to testify they saw the two together.

During jury selection Friday, a schoolteacher was struck from the panel after she said she feared for herself and for friends who lived in the Washington area during the sniper spree. She said "it would be very hard" to set that fear aside.

Defense lawyers unsuccessfully sought to strike a prospective juror who said he believed in the principle of "an eye for an eye." Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen says there's no way to tell if this jury will be more favorable to prosecutors or the defense. But usually, he says, jurors in capital cases "tend to favor the government for the simple reason that anyone who is opposed to capital punishment cannot serve on a jury in a capital case. That tends to skew the pool toward prosecutors and against the defense."

In any case, Cohen says it's going to be a nerve-wracking weekend for jury members: "They have to go home and get their lives in order for an ordeal that will take one month, at a minimum. These jurors won't get paid very much at all; they will be away from work and their families a great deal even though they aren't sequestered and of course they won't be able to talk at all about this incredible experience."