updated 9/7/2004 7:48:58 PM ET 2004-09-07T23:48:58

Lawyers for convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad cited new documents Tuesday they say bolster their claim that he was denied his right to a speedy trial and should be spared a second capital-murder trial.

Muhammad’s lawyers say his pending trial in Fairfax County, scheduled for October, should have begun months ago to comply with speedy trial guarantees in the Virginia and U.S. constitutions.

If the judge rules in Muhammad’s favor, Fairfax County would be barred from prosecuting Muhammad for the Oct. 14, 2002, shooting death of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, one of 10 sniper killings that terrorized metropolitan Washington, D.C., over a three-week span.

A similar problem could jeopardize another pending Virginia case, but cases in Maryland, the District of Columbia and other states, including Alabama and Louisiana, would not be affected.

Muhammad was sentenced to death last year for one sniper killing in Virginia, but Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. has said a second prosecution is needed in case the initial conviction or sentence is overturned on appeal.

Virginia law guarantees a trial within five months of arrest unless a defendant waives that right.

A question of timing
Prosecutors have argued that Muhammad’s speedy-trial rights did not begin until he was arrested in May for Franklin’s killing. Defense lawyers contend the clock began ticking when Muhammad was indicted for the killing in November 2002.

Failing that, according to defense motions made public Tuesday, trial should have begun within five months of January 2004, when police notified Muhammad’s jailers in Prince William County of the capital murder charges Muhammad faced in Fairfax County.

The motions cite internal documents between Fairfax police and the Prince William jail that the defense says bolster its case. Prosecutors filed a response Tuesday afternoon citing even more documents that they believe refute the defense claim.

Prosecutors acknowledge that Fairfax County intended to try Muhammad only after his case in Prince William County wrapped up. But they have said it was never a question of violating Muhammad’s rights.

“This was the fair and orderly thing to do, and it hasn’t resulted in an ounce of harm to Muhammad,” Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh wrote in earlier documents.

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