Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad walked out of a psychiatric evaluation in Prince William County jail Wednesday morning, declining to speak with a forensic psychiatrist hired by the Commonwealth.
In a hurriedly called hearing Wednesday afternoon, Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. ordered the examination to proceed this morning, though he ruled that Muhammad’s attorneys can be present during the evaluation.
Dr. Park E. Dietz, the prosecution’s expert witness, told the court Wednesday that Muhammad left a jail interview room after he noticed Dietz setting up video recording equipment.
Dietz said that as he and a detective were setting up the camera, Muhammad was escorted to the room. He indicated the camera, and Dietz explained its purpose. As Dietz was doing so, Muhammad left.
Dietz told the court he prefers to videotape his interviews to preserve an accurate record of the evaluation.
“Everyone else is able to determine accurately … whether I’ve altered his mental state evidence,” Dietz said.
Muhammad’s defense attorneys objected to videotaping the interview. They argued the camera made Muhammad uncomfortable and the tape could be used against him at trial or in other jurisdictions.
“The jury might make a decision based on a few seconds [of tape] rather than the whole man. They may make decision on likability rather than moral culpability,” Shapiro said.
But Millette said that their arguments were premature. He ruled that Dietz could record the interview, pointing out that if other jurisdictions want the information, they could subpoena Dietz just as well as a video.
Dietz also told the court that he preferred to interview the defendant without his attorney present because “a relationship of sorts develops … the presence of any third party interferes with that.” Dietz also said in some instances defense attorneys’ presence had been “disruptive.”
But Shapiro argued that the attorneys would be derelict in their duty if they were not present to assert Muhammad’s Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination.
Millette agreed with defense attorneys, though he asked Dietz’s suggestions for the least intrusive way of providing Muhammad his attorney. Millette said his decision was in part due to Dietz’s unawareness of the court’s order regarding the evaluation. The order states that Dietz cannot reference anything regarding Muhammad’s mental state at the time of the offenses he is charged with committing.
Dietz suggested conferring with Muhammad’s attorneys before the evaluation to go over the questions he would ask. If any of his questions concern Muhammad or his defense attorneys, they should request a break, Dietz said.
Defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun asked to postpone the evaluation because Fairfax prosecutors want Dietz to interview Lee Boyd Malvo, Muhammad’s alleged partner in crime. Fairfax Judge Jane Marum Roush is expected to rule on the request today.
Muhammad, 42, and Malvo, 18, are charged with the three-week shooting spree in the Washington, D.C., area that killed 10 people during the fall of 2002. In Prince William County, Muhammad is charged with the shooting of 53-year-old Dean Harold Meyers, who was killed while filling his gas tank at the Sudley Road Sunoco station north of Manassas.
Greenspun said it would be a conflict of interest for Dietz to interview Muhammad and then possibly be evaluating that information at the same time he interviews Malvo.
“There’s no way to divide his brain in two,” Greenspun said.
But Millette found that argument was also premature.
Prince William and Fairfax prosecutors are entitled to an evaluation of Muhammad by their mental health experts because defense experts have evaluated Muhammad and Malvo. Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said Muhammad has been visited 17 times by defense mental health experts. Should Muhammad again refuse the prosecution expert’s interview, that defense testimony will not be allowed at trial.
Muhammad refused to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, and brain wave scan in August at Prince William hospital, part of ordered tests. One of the deputies that escorted Muhammad to the hospital shocked Muhammad with a stun belt after he wouldn’t stop struggling. The tests were successfully performed in September.
Millette warned Muhammad that if he doesn’t comply, his expert’s evidence can’t be used. Millette also warned defense attorneys that if they interfere with Dietz’s interview, he will consider it refusing to comply and strike their expert’s testimony from the trial, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 369-6594.