Court to hear appeal by D.C. sniper

John Allen Muhammad was sentenced to death in 2004 in Virginia for one of the 10 sniper rampage slayings. John Allen Muhammad was sentenced to death in 2004 in Virginia for one of the 10 sniper rampage slayings.
Associated Press / May 11, 2009
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RICHMOND, Va. - Before John Allen Muhammad went to trial for orchestrating the deadly sniper rampage that terrorized the Washington, D.C., region, he claimed he was a prophet and that his teenage accomplice had concocted an herbal AIDS cure, his lawyers say.

Despite such grandiose statements and evidence that Muhammad's brain was damaged by childhood beatings, his trial counsel failed to stop Muhammad from acting as his own attorney for part of his capital murder trial, his new legal team has argued in briefs filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The appeals court is scheduled to hear those arguments tomorrow in Muhammad's bid to overturn his conviction and death sentence or return the case to the trial court for whatever further proceedings the appellate judges might deem appropriate.

Muhammad made his own opening statement and cross-examined witnesses for the first two days of his 2003 trial before turning the case back over to his court-appointed attorneys. His new lawyers claim on appeal that the failure to prevent him from representing himself violated his constitutional right to an effective defense.

A jury in Virginia Beach sentenced Muhammad to death for the Oct. 9, 2002, murder of Dean Meyers in Prince William County. In all, the shooting spree by Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo left 10 dead and a half-dozen wounded in four states and the District of Columbia.

Along with the ineffective defense claim, a three-judge panel of the appeals court will consider two other issues raised by Muhammad: that the prosecution withheld crucial evidence and that the trial judge erred in refusing to allow the jury to hear expert testimony about Muhammad's brutal childhood. Muhammad's lawyers say an MRI of his brain showed abnormalities. Two experts said Muhammad likely was schizophrenic.