Washington, D.C.-area sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo came face to face in a Virginia courtroom yesterday in advance of their pending trials. The Baltimore Sun says that Malvo answered several perfunctory questions while Muhammad stoically stared at the witness stand.
Prosecutors called Malvo to determine whether he would testify in their case against Muhammad, 42, who is alleged to be his co-conspirator and is accused of intimidating the teen-ager into assisting in the killings. As expected, Malvo asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to say whether he would testify.
Malvo, 18, answered only questions about his name, age and place of birth. Muhammad’s first trial is set to begin Oct. 14 in Virginia Beach. Malvo’s first trial is set for Nov. 10 in Chesapeake.
Muhammad’s attorneys objected to Malvo’s appearing in court, saying potential jurors could be influenced if the news media try to interpret the suspects’ facial expressions. “Anything that Lee Malvo does when he comes in this courtroom – if he looks around, if he sees Mr. Muhammad, if there’s a nod, if there’s a smile, if there’s a frown – that’s going to be diced and dissected by all these reporters,” said Muhammad attorney Peter D. Greenspun. Lead prosecutor Paul B. Ebert responded that, “Talking about what reporters are going to do has nothing to do with this case.”
Meanwhile, the book about the case by former Montgomery County, Md., police chief Charles Moose is soaring on some bestseller lists. Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher says that “contrary to my prediction that the public would see it as an empty ego trip, it has hit No. 11 on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list and will rise to No. 5 on the New York Times list on Sunday. And when the sniper trials start in two weeks, it’ll be as hard to avoid reliving the tensions of last October as it has become to turn away from the anniversary pains of 9/11 each fall.” Fisher concludes: “It’s like riding roller coasters: You can dread them and revel in them all at once. We’re living that contradiction in the sniper case: We want it to go away, yet we read and talk about it still.