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Md. judge lets sniper suspect represent himself

A judge ruled Wednesday that John Allen Muhammad can represent himself at his trial for six killings during the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A judge ruled Wednesday that John Allen Muhammad can represent himself at his trial for six killings during the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks, the second time a court has done so.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge James L. Ryan ruled that Muhammad is competent to represent himself despite evidence presented by his own attorneys that Muhammad might be mentally ill.

“There is no reason at all why I should not be able to represent myself in this trial,” Muhammad said at his hearing. “If I had a mental disorder, then Rosa Parks had a mental disorder, because she didn’t get up off that seat.”

Muhammad is already under a death sentence for a sniper attack committed in Virginia.

Muhammad, 45, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 21, are accused of murdering 10 people and wounding three during the three-week rampage in October 2002 that spread fear across the Washington metropolitan area.

Postponement request denied
Ryan refused Muhammad’s request to delay the trial, set for May 1, in the six Montgomery County, Md., slayings. He could get a life sentence. Malvo, who was also convicted in Virginia and sentenced to life in prison, is scheduled to go on trial in the fall.

Muhammad often rambled during Wednesday’s two-hour hearing, saying his lawyers ignored his requests for court records and refused to tell the judge he wanted to represent himself. He eventually wrote a letter to Ryan, dated March 11, asking for permission to fire his lawyers.

At one point, Muhammad asked the judge for permission to sit with the prosecutors because they agreed that he is competent. Ryan ignored his request.

He also vehemently denied a psychiatrist’s report, presented by his lawyers, stating that he is paranoid, delusional and has a form of schizophrenia.

“If I am incompetent now, I have been incompetent since the day I was born,” Muhammad said.

Prosecutors challenge mental assessment
Prosecutors challenged the diagnosis by Yale University psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis, saying she had commented to the media before Muhammad and Malvo were arrested that the sniper was likely psychotic. Prosecutor Vivek Chopra said the psychiatrist’s report was biased and had been crafted to fit the earlier conclusion.

Ryan said he believed Muhammad understood the gravity of deciding to represent himself. But he repeatedly warned the defendant that he was potentially hobbling his case by going forward with no legal training and little courtroom experience.

The judge appointed Muhammad’s defense attorneys, Paul DeWolfe and Brian Shefferman, as standby counsel to help him prepare for the trial. They said they have not decided whether to accept the assignment.

They said afterward that the judge had refused to hold a full hearing with witnesses.

“We feel we didn’t get a chance to present and document evidence of a serious mental illness,” DeWolfe said. “He is very ill; he is mentally ill.”

Muhammad has seven boxes of court records with him in prison and a DVD that contains 30,000 pages of documents, according to testimony.

Muhammad briefly represented himself during his trial in Virginia, delivering an opening statement and cross-examining at least one witness. He allowed his attorneys to retake control of the case after he complained of pain from an abscessed tooth.