Manassas Journal Messenger | The cast of players for upcoming sniper trial

The Defendant:

John Allen Muhammad

John Allen Muhammad presents a fascinating figure, even encased in an orange jumpsuit across a crowded courtroom. He speaks in monosyllables, and only when directly addressed by a judge. He rarely blinks.

Muhammad was born John Allen Williams in New Orleans in 1960. The name change occurred in 1985, when he converted to Islam.

Muhammad grew up in Baton Rouge, La., and joined the Louisiana National Guard in 1978. He was court martialled in 1982, and served a seven-day imprisonment. He remained with the National Guard until he enlisted in the Army in 1985. During his time as a soldier, he earned a marksmanship award with the standard M-16 rifle, and served in the Persian Gulf War. He was honorably discharged in 1994. He served with the Oregon National Guard in 1994 and 1995.

In 1981, Muhammad married his first wife, with whom he had one son. Muhammad and Carol Williams divorced in 1987. Muhammad married a second time in 1988. They separated in September 1999, and in February 2000, Mildred Green Muhammad sought a protective order against Muhammad.

Shortly thereafter, Muhammad took their three children to Antigua. It is alleged that he began selling fake identifications and smuggling individuals into the United States. This, allegedly, is how he met Una James, the mother of his alleged partner-in-crime, Lee Boyd Malvo.

James traveled to the U.S. illegally, allegedly leaving her son in Muhammad’s care. Muhammad brought Malvo back to the U.S. along with his three children.

Muhammad and Malvo were arrested in a blue Chevy Caprice with New Jersey tags in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2002. They were sleeping at a Maryland rest stop.

On Tuesday, Muhammad will stand trial for 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.

The Partner:

Lee Boyd Malvo

Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, met his alleged partner in crime in Antigua. Malvo’s mother was searching for a ticket to the U.S., and John Allen Muhammad is alleged to have forged immigration documents for her. Una James left her son in Muhammad’s care, along with Muhammad’s own three children.

Friends and relatives in Antigua and Jamaica have described Malvo to visiting reporters as a shy, studious boy who constantly sought a father figure. He moved in with Muhammad shortly after meeting him and apparently took Muhammad’s first name, John.

The indictment against Malvo in Fairfax County charges Lee Boyd Malvo, aka John Lee Malvo, for capital murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Malvo’s defense attorneys, Michael Arif and Craig S. Cooley caused much stir in Prince William County in June, when they filed documents revealing a portion of their defense: Malvo acted “under the spell” of Muhammad. It is a stance they have not deviated from. Just this week, they announced their intention to enter an insanity plea to that effect. Defense attorneys will argue at Malvo’s trial that the degree of indoctrination to which he was subjected constituted insanity at the time of the offense.

Just as the US Attorney General John Ashcroft stipulated the first jurisdiction to try Muhammad, he also selected Fairfax County as the first jurisdiction to try Malvo. The fact that Virginia has no law preventing the execution of juvenile offenders is also believed to have factored into the decision.

Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush will preside over the trial. Malvo will be prosecuted by Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney, Robert F. Horan Jr. Horan. At 70, Horan is Virginia’s longest-serving prosecutor.

Malvo also will be traveling to south eastern Virginia for his trial. Roush ruled that Malvo’s trial will be relocated to Chesapeake Circuit Court. His trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 10 for the murder of Linda Franklin, 47, who was shot while loading purchases into her car at the Falls Church Home Depot.

The Judge:

LeRoy F. Millette Jr.

In the 10 years since LeRoy F. Millette Jr. was appointed to the Prince William Circuit Court bench, he has acquired a reputation around the courthouse for getting the weird ones.

Between horrible, high-profile and bizarre, Millette has handled his cases with aplomb.

During the sentencing phase of the 2002 trial of Janice Larue Orndorff, 55, later convicted of murdering her husband, Millette ruled on the mental stability of a defendant who displayed multiple personalities, mostly of children, in the courtroom. She screamed, she swore, and she told a prosecutor to shut up. She threw a glass of water at Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert as he was questioning her during her competency hearing.

The unruffled Millette decided Orndorff did comprehend the court proceedings and ruled her competent to continue the trial. She was later sentenced to serve 35 years in prison.

Millette told another murderess “that’s an evil heart you have and [the crimes] must be punished appropriately.” Danita Yvonne Corbin, 32, had been convicted of murdering a 32-year-old mentally retarded man. Corbin was charged with masterminding Joseph Scott Williams’ murder in her Dale City home.

Her accomplice, Benjamin Hammonds Jr., 22, was also convicted of first-degree murder, though sentenced to 43 years in prison.

One of Millette’s earliest trials may perhaps be his best preparation for the media scrutiny and public interest his present trial attracts: that of John Wayne Bobbitt. Bobbitt, 35, was accused of marital sexual assault by his wife Lorena Gallo, who sliced off his penis. Despite Gallo’s anguished testimony, a jury acquitted Bobbitt of the charge.

Millette was a defense attorney in Woodbridge for 12 years before serving a four year stint as a Prince William prosecutor. Prior to replacing former Circuit Court Judge H. Selwyn Smith, Millette was a General District Court judge for three years.

The Defense:

Peter D. Greenspun

Fairfax defense attorney Peter Greenspun is one of a select group of Virginia lawyers who is “death penalty qualified.” He was appointed to Muhammad’s case in November 2002 after much speculation.

But there is no speculating about Greenspun’s credentials. One of his more publicized cases was his defense of NBC sportscaster Marv Albert from a sexual assault charge in 1997. At slightly more than five feet, Greenspun presents a much larger presence in the court room, as he raises his voice and gesticulates to make his points.

Greenspun, 50, has an extended history with The Washingtonian magazine’s prestigious Top Lawyers review. This year, he was listed at number 14 among the area’s 75 best, rated by lawyers, judges and clients.

“Greenspun and ace partner Thomas Peter Mann routinely represent the most despised defendants in his state. He often wins the unwinnable,” wrote Kim Isaac Eisler, a National Editor for The Washingtonian. “There aren’t many high-profile Virginia cases in which Greenspun, a master of his craft, hasn’t been involved.”

And the unwinnable is certainly what many believe the sniper cases are shaping up to be. But Greenspun and his co-counsel, Alexandria attorney Jonathan Shapiro have handled a combined six death penalty cases. Only one of the defendants was executed.

Greenspun has even beaten Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert, who has sent more defendants to Virginia’s death row than any other prosecutor. In 1996, a 16-year-old boy Greenspun was defending was acquitted of murder. The boy was charged as an adult in a case Greenspun argued was self-defense.

Greenspun described Shapiro and himself as “knee-jerk liberals” during one of the many pretrial hearings leading up to Tuesday’s trial of John Allen Muhammad. Both Greenspun and Shapiro are opposed to the death penalty, and have challenged its constitutionality multiple times during their defense of the alleged sniper.

The Prosecutor:

Paul B. Ebert

One of the reasons US Attorney General John Ashcroft selected Prince William County as the location for John Allen Muhammad’s trial was the county’s chief prosecutor.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert was Virginia’s youngest elected CA when he won his first election in 1968. Since then, he has become known as the most successful for prosecuting capital cases in the state. Three of the 26 men currently on death row at Sussex I State Prison in Waverly are from Prince William County.

When asked, Ebert will describe it as a dubious distinction, but one he takes seriously. He must. One area paper placed Ebert and Muhammad’s pictures side by side on its front page in November 2002, labeling Muhammad “alleged killer” and Ebert “proven killer.”

Yet Ebert is not infallible. He lost two of his most famous cases, the prosecution of the Bobbitts following the widely-published penis slicing.

“I worked hard all my life to be known as the penis prosecutor,” Ebert told the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger in June.

These days, he’s known as a member of the sniper task force.

One of Ebert’s greatest strengths is his handling and knowledge of Prince William juries, area attorneys say.

“Ebert would like people in the courtroom to think he’s a bumbling country lawyer,” Muhammad’s defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun was quoted saying of Ebert in a 1997 Manassas Journal Messenger article. “The fact is that he’s a highly experienced, savvy, sly practitioner who knows Prince William County juries like the back of his hand.”

How he will fare with a Virginia Beach jury has yet to be seen, though the area’s population has very similar demographics to Prince William County.

Ebert also faces a challenge in the new terrorism statute, that charges Muhammad with committing capital murder during an act of terrorism. The act was quickly passed after Sept. 11, 2001, and has already faced attacks from Muhammad’s defense attorneys.

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