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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Sniper Suspect Muhammad Will Appear at Courthouse in Prince William County, Virginia

Aired November 13, 2002 - 08:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: News in this country. About 90 minutes from now, sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad will appear at the courthouse in Prince William County, Virginia. That hearing could determine when his trial starts.
And Jeanne Meserve has been watching that case for us. She's live outside the courthouse this morning -- Jeanne, good morning.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill.

First, we want to show you a photograph which CNN has obtained of John Allen Muhammad. This taken back in 1984 when he was a member of the National Guard in the State of Louisiana. He is shown in this photograph cradling a rifle.

Now, John Muhammad will be in the creation today. He'll be brought to the courthouse behind me from a detention facility next door.

His attorney says that this proceeding today is likely to be short, sweet, to the point, mostly about logistics. It is likely that dates will be set, possibly for a trial and/or for motions to be filed. It is also possible that his defense attorney will ask that additional counsel be appointed in this case.

There have been a lot of questions about whether John Muhammad can receive a fair trial in this area which was so seriously impacted by the sniper slayings. I asked the attorney, Pierre Greenspan, the attorney for Mr. Muhammad, if he might ask for a change of venue in this case. This is what he said to me. He said, "We have not made any decisions regarding trial tactics, strategies, where, how, when or what. This is a case where there will be a huge amount of work with a huge amount of information that will require a likewise huge amount of evaluation. And no matter how many reporters ask me, I refuse to make a decision as to whether we will ask for a change of venue or any other aspect of this case at this point."

The public discussion over the change of venue became more intense over the last several days when it was revealed that John Lee Malvo, the other defendant in this case, who is being tried in a neighboring county, when it was revealed that he had been interrogated for seven hours and that during the course of this interrogation, according to sources, he admitted to being the triggerman in some of the shootings.

Now, I asked Muhammad's lawyer about that. He said this was an obvious attempt to taint the jury pool. He went no to say, "Every investigator working closely on this case knows better than to disclose out of context snippets of an uncounseled interrogation of a juvenile. Not only is it prejudicial to the rights of the juvenile, but in this case because they have split the prosecution, it is highly prejudicial to release such information as it impacts Mr. Muhammad."

And so as you can see, the sparring has begun. This court proceeding expected to get under way in about an hour and a half -- Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: Jeanne, quickly, just to keep it clear here, the charge is Dean Myers, age 53, gunned down on a Wednesday night in Manassas, Virginia. Is there talk about applying any other charges to him as of this report, as we talk right now?

MESERVE: Well, charges are being brought under two different laws here, one a capital murder charge, also a charge being brought under a new terrorism law here in the State of Virginia. But that is the only one of the sniper shootings that we're aware of that was, in fact, committed here in this county. So that is the one case that this, the one incident that this case will be dwelling upon. Undoubtedly, they will be talking about all the other cases that have connected with the snipers -- Bill.

HEMMER: Got it.

Jeanne, thank you.

Jeanne Meserve outside the courthouse there this morning.

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