As the trial of Washington, D.C., sniper defendant John Allen Muhammad begins today in Virginia Beach, Va., the Washington Post profiles the 42-year-old alleged mastermind of the attacks. After extensive interviews with friends and relatives, the Post concludes that he “botched every aspect of his life.” In the two-plus decades before his arrest, the Post said, “his troubles mounted like some kind of prolonged torture. He failed at every major role he undertook — soldier, husband, father, businessman. Even his mistresses eventually rejected him.”
Muhammad “portrayed himself as a devoted family man yet abducted his children and convinced them it was ‘not safe’ to call their mother. He was a mechanic pretending he owned health spas and lavish homes in the Caribbean.”
Eventually, the Post says, “his lies had lost their power. As he traveled from coast to coast, his life was crumbling at every stop. The once confident and cocky Muhammad became a homeless drifter, droning on and on about guns. By the time the shootings started, he had nothing to lose, his friends said.”
The first few days of the trial will be spent choosing a jury to sit through 4 to 5 weeks of circumstantial evidence and chilling details of the sniper shootings, the Richmond Times-Dispatch says. The state is seeking the death penalty for the fatal shooting of Dean H. Meyers, 53, a year ago. Muhammad’s trial may be unfolding on Nov. 10, when co-defendant Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, is scheduled for trial in nearby Chesapeake. Both trials were moved from Northern Virginia because of intense publicity about the case.
Yesterday, scores of reporters from across the U.S. and abroad milled around the Virginia Beach municipal center, picking up media credentials and testing their computer, phones and satellite links. City officials have cordoned off roads in the courthouse complex, postponed several other trials and temporarily moved some city operations to make room for the trial and as many as 300 media representatives. Courtroom 10, where the trial will be held, has only 126 seats, most reserved for reporters, lawyers and the sniper victims’ families. Five seats every day will be set aside for members of the public chosen by lottery. More than 800 people have registered.
Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. refused to allow the trial to be televised but permitted closed-circuit TV feeds to a private room for sniper victims’ families and to a separate room for reporters lacking seats in the courtroom. The trial is expected to cost the city more than $600,000, most for added security. Mayor Meyera Oberndorf said that the city did not seek the chance to host the trial, but “we are largely a military community, and we understand what it is to serve.”