A Virginia judge presiding over the second trial of sniper John Allen Muhammad has recused himself after he was accused by prosecutors of conducting his own investigation into a claim by the convict’s attorneys. The Washington Post says Fairfax County Judge Jonathan Thacher defended his actions but said the focus must return to the victim and the suspect. Prosecutors said the judge had interviewed potential witnesses and made allegations that a key document had been altered. “It was the better part of discretion for the judge to recuse himself,” said American University law Prof. Jamin Raskin, “because one wants to remove any theoretical basis for reversal of a valid conviction.”
One issue a new judge must decide is Muhammad can face the death penalty when he is not alleged to have fired the shot that killed FBI analyst Linda Franklin. Franklin was one of 10 sniper victims in October 2002. Muhammad was sentenced to death in a Prince William slaying, but Fairfax is seeking a second set of convictions in case the first ones are overturned on appeal.