Potomac News Online | Muhammad’s brief defense of self may stick with jurors

Legal observers said John Allen Muhammad’s two-day stint of defending himself may have a lasting negative effect on the jury.

While he held himself confidently before the court, that can’t be mistaken for ability, said a lawyer who watched.

“He seemed to be trying to play the role of the victim. He tried to preach to them and his stating he was there but he didn’t have anything to do with it was so contradictory it was thought-provoking in a negative manner,” said Chesapeake lawyer Eric Plumlee, one of the few lawyers able to observe the proceedings because he is doing commentary for the Hampton Roads NBC affiliate.

“Go back and look at it. He was unorthodox, ineffective,” Plumlee said.

The only advantage Muhammad could have gained was he became more of a person in the eyes of a jury if he did not come across as a monster, said Northwestern University law school professor Ronald Allen in a joint TV interview with University of Virginia law school professor Anne Coughlin.

Coughlin said that is what happened with serial killer Ted Bundy, who had a year of law school and represented himself. Bundy came across as a monster to the jury and appellate judges, she said. He was executed in 1989.

Plumlee said several jurors physically reacted like rolling their eyes when Muhammad told shooting victim Paul LaRuffa he understood “how you feel to have your life on the line.”

“When he gets up there and he talks for two days straight and it’s basically innuendos ? the jury is hearing from him, but what they really want to hear is his side of the story,” Plumlee said.

If they choose to not put him on the stand, Muhammad’s lawyers will tell the jury not to judge against him because of that, Plumlee said, since he has that right under the law, but “with him doing all that talking, that may be the law but from a practical standpoint how to do you listen to somebody … and then have them not tell their side of the story?”

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