White-majority jury for Muhammad

Lawyers in the murder trial of accused Washington sniper John Muhammad are set for opening arguments before a largely white, female jury.

    Muhammad faces the possibility of a death sentence

    It took nearly four days last week to seat 12 jurors and three alternates in Muhammad's trial, consisting of 10 women and five men.


    All but two are white, which is seen as a possible disadvantage for Muhammad, who is African-American.

    The legal arguments begin on Monday.


    Muhammad's trial was moved 320km to Virginia Beach, a seaside resort city, in search of an unbiased jury.


    While the killings occurred in Maryland, Washington DC and other jurisdictions around the country, US Attorney-General John Ashcroft chose Virginia for the first two trials because it offered the possibility of the death penalty for both defendants.


    Random killings


    Jurisdictions closer to Washington were also considered prejudiced by the three-week series of seemingly random sniper-style killings that terrorised the area in October 2002.


    Muhammad and his young travelling companion, Lee Malvo, have been linked to a total of 13 attacks in the area, including 10 shooting deaths.


    Muhammad also faces charges under
    the "anti-terrorism" law

    Malvo, 18, is expected to appear at Muhammad's trial, not as a witness but so that witnesses who say they saw the two together can identify Malvo. At a pre-trial hearing where the two were in the same room for the first time since their arrest, Malvo did not even acknowledge knowing Muhammad.


    A 42-year-old Gulf War veteran, Muhammad faces a possible death sentence or life in prison without parole if convicted on either of the two murder charges against him in the shooting to death of a Maryland man on 9 October 2002, as he refuelled his car in Manassas, in the US capital's Virginia suburbs.


    Malvo, who was 17 when the crimes occurred, is set for trial on 10 November in Chesapeake, Virginia, stemming from a killing in Fairfax, Virginia, just outside Washington's Beltway. He too could face the death penalty if convicted.


    Malvo's attorneys have indicated in pre-trial proceedings that they intend to argue it is Muhammad who indoctrinated Malvo.  Muhammad's lawyers have maintained that Malvo is able to make his own decisions.


    One of the murder counts against Muhammad is an “anti-terrorism” law crafted after the September 11 attacks. Under this law, Muhammad could be convicted of murder even if he did not pull the trigger in the Manassas killing.


    Muhammad also faces one charge of conspiracy and a weapons charge.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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