Thirteen of the twenty-seven jurors needed for the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad were selected Wednesday after they were asked what type of media coverage they had been exposed to.
Some take their responsibilities as a juror very seriously.
“I can’t even read my horoscope,” one potential juror told the court.
Since the Virginia Beach bartender was called for jury selection in the case, her 12-year-old son has taken the newspaper away from her, removed her clock radio from her room and only allowed her to watch Channel 29 — the cartoon channel.
She and other potential jurors were warned again Wednesday by Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. to not to read the paper, watch the news or discuss the trial with anyone.
The group of 13 consists of 10 women and three men. Fourteen more people are needed before the final stage of selecting the jury can be reached. Defense attorneys and prosecutors will then remove six potential jurors each from the pool of 27.
Fifteen people will actually hear the trial. Three are alternates who will be removed before the jury begins deliberation.
Wednesday, the jurors were asked three types of questions: what publicity about the crimes or trials they had been exposed to, opinions on the death penalty, and how they felt during the fall 2002 shooting spree in the Washington, D.C., area.
Of the 13 remaining in the jury pool, two said they had received almost no media coverage of the shootings or the trial, one because she was planning a wedding and another because she was on an extended road trip to Washington State.
Millette removed two potential jurors from the pool after giving unacceptable answers to the questions. One man was removed after telling the court that he would automatically sentence Muhammad to death if he were convicted of the charges against him. The same potential juror then told the court that he would automatically sentence Muhammad to life in prison if he were convicted.
Noting the disparity, Millette said, “the totality of his answer is of concern to the court.”
An insurance saleswoman was removed on defense attorneys’ objections after she said she had thought previously that Muhammad was guilty but that she could make a fair decision despite that. Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro argued the woman never said she had changed her mind about Muhammad’s guilt or innocence. Prosecutors did not object to her removal. The defense asked Millette to remove two more jurors, a grandmother of three and a pharmacy technician, but Millette ruled both could stay.
Millette said he thought the technician, a recent William and Mary graduate, had been “almost excruciatingly thoughtful” in her answers. Of the grandmother, he said the answer defense attorney Peter Greenspun objected to had been a “throw-away line” after the woman had been asked the same question numerous times.
Prosecutors sought to remove a woman whose “feelings about the death penalty would substantially impair” her decision, Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said.
“She is allowed to have these feelings, and Mr. Muhammad is allowed to have jurors who don’t want to be here because it’s a hard decision,” Shapiro argued.
The judge allowed the juror to remain in the pool.
Muhammad, 42, and his alleged partner in crime, Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, are charged with a three-week shooting spree in the Washington, D.C. area that killed 10 people. Muhammad is charged with the death of 53-year-old Dean Harold Meyers, who was killed while filling his gas tank at the Sunoco station on Sudley Road north of Manassas. Malvo will begin trial in Chesapeake Nov. 10 for the murder of Linda Franklin, 47, who was shot while loading purchases into her car in a Fairfax Home Depot parking lot.
Today, the court will continue individually questioning potential jurors. Though a jury is expected before the end of the week, defense attorneys and Ebert told reporters after court Wednesday that they did not expect to begin opening statements in the case until Monday.