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Sniper Suspect: I Do Need Lawyers

Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad watches court proceedings during his trial at the Virginia Beach Circuit Court in Virginia Beach, Va.,Wednesday Oct. 22, 2003. Muhammad decided to allow his attorneys to represent him in court again.
AP
Another day, another twist in the murder trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammed. On Wednesday, Muhammed reinstated his attorneys after dismissing them so he could act as his own defense counsel.

"Mr. Muhammad no longer believes it is in his best interest to represent himself," Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. told the jury.

Jonathan Shapiro and Peter Greenspun, who had been advising him on standby since his decision Monday, returned to their former roles as his defense lawyers.

If the attorneys were relieved, CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras reports their client seemed deflated, doubly distressed by a painful toothache.

Back in control, the defense mounted a pit-bull attack, with rapid-fire objections, far outnumbering the failed few made by Muhammed. They tried to regain lost ground and recover from Muhammed's lack of legal experience.

"I think he panicked," says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "Just before his trial he wanted control. Once he got control he realized how difficult it was to actually maneuver the intricacies of the law, so he gave up."

Muhammad, 42, had stunned the judge and his own attorneys when he demanded the right to act as his own lawyer just as opening arguments in the capital case were to begin Monday.

Though the judge said Muhammad represented himself competently, legal experts said he probably inflicted heavy damage on his case with a rambling opening statement that failed entirely to address the facts of the case.

During testimony, many of Muhammad's objections were overruled, and prosecutors objected to the way some of his questions to witnesses were posed, complaining that he was making gratuitous remarks or delving into irrelevant areas.

Muhammad is on trial in the slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, who was cut down by a single bullet at a Virginia gas station during the spree that left 10 people dead in the Washington area.

Muhammad and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, are accused of being behind a three-week shooting spree that killed 10 people last October in Washington D.C. and its suburbs in Virginia and Maryland and terrorized the nation.

They are also suspected or charged in shootings in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona and Washington State.

On Wednesday, the most dramatic testimony of the trial yet came from liquor-store employee Muhammad Rashid, who was shot in the stomach in Brandywine, Md., in September 2002.

Rashid identified Malvo as the man who shot and robbed him while Rashid played dead so his attacker would not shoot again. Prosecutors then played Rashid's 911 call, in which he wailed for help for six minutes, telling the dispatcher: "I am dying. ... I am all by myself."

Rashid shook on the stand and jurors rocked in their seats as they listened to the tape.

Rashid was allowed to testify only after identifying Malvo as his attacker, with the jury out of the courtroom. It was only the third time Malvo and Muhammad had been in the same courtroom; the encounter was brief, with no apparent eye contact between them.

When Rashid saw Malvo in the courtroom, he said, "Yes, his face, his color, his physical structure is very similar" to his attacker.

The defense objected to Rashid's testimony on several grounds, saying the shooting was irrelevant to the murder charges against Muhammad.

Defense attorney Peter Greenspun also argued that any identification of Malvo would be tainted because Rashid only briefly saw his attacker and because Malvo's face has been broadcast so frequently since the attack.

Prosecutors have said that ballistics evidence in the Rashid shooting will be linked to other shootings and that the robbery was one of several used to finance the sniper spree.

Prosecutors in Malvo's case have asked to delay the start of the sniper suspect's trial.

In a motion to continue, Virginia prosecutors cite a list of reasons. They include this month's announcement by Malvo's lawyers that they will present an insanity defense.

According to the prosecutors, it was last Friday when they received from the defense a copy of a report by a doctor who is their expert on insanity.

Prosecutors have asked for their own expert, but he has other immediate commitments, and wants at least 30 days from November tenth to evaluate Malvo and prepare his own report.

Because of that, prosecutors say they want the trial to be delayed until at least December tenth. It's currently scheduled for November tenth.

Prosecutors had complained about Muhammad's self-representation, even asking the judge at one point to stop him allowing to serve as his own lawyer. They said Muhammad was receiving too much help from his two defense lawyers, whose role as standby counsel was supposed to be limited.

The judge had ordered Muhammad to physically distance himself from his standby counsel to minimize communication with them.

Experts said the two days of self-representation did more harm than good to Muhammad's case.

"The one thing he may have done that's positive is he revealed himself to the jury as a human being. He may have made it more difficult to recommend a death penalty," said Joseph Bowman, a veteran criminal defense attorney who has handled death penalty cases in Virginia.

Malvo is scheduled to go on trial separately next month in the slaying of an FBI analyst.