VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) -- Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad won the right to defend himself Monday, then denied he had anything to do with last October's shooting spree that left 10 people dead in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
"The evidence ... will show that I had nothing to do with these crimes," Muhammad told the jurors in his 20-minute opening statement, repeating, "I had nothing to do with these crimes."
"They know this, and that's why they are trying to impose everything at one time. And what we ask you all to do is just pay attention. Please pay attention, because right now my life and my son's life is on the line." (Text of statement)
Muhammad, 42, frequently told people that his alleged co-conspirator, 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, was his son, but prosecutors say they are not related.
In a lengthy discourse about the meaning of "truth" and "lies," Muhammad told jurors that apparent truths can be shown to be wrong, relating an incident in the Caribbean with his young daughter.
He said he caught his daughter apparently stealing chocolate cookies out of a jar and sent her to her room crying. He said his son later told him he had bought cookies for his sister and told her to put the remaining ones in the jar.
"I'm locked up, I'm denied my constitutional rights -- based on a guess," Muhammad said. "A guess is not enough to take a human life."
Muhammad is charged with the murder of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, a Vietnam combat veteran and engineer who was gunned down October 9, 2002, as he refueled his black Mazda at a Sunoco gas station in Manassas, a Washington suburb in northern Virginia.
Meyers was the seventh victim in the three-week shooting spree. Three other people survived gunshot wounds suffered during the spree.
Muhammad also is charged with terrorism, conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted on the murder or terrorism counts.
Muhammad and Malvo -- who faces a separate trial beginning next month -- were arrested together October 24, 2002, sleeping in a car at a highway rest stop in Maryland.
Prosecutors have said the shootings were part of a plot to extort $10 million from local and state governments.
Malvo in court
Malvo -- wearing a bright orange jumpsuit and being held by two sheriff's deputies -- was brought into the court later in the day to be identified by Linda Frances Thompson, an employee of the First Virginia Bank in Manassas.
Thompson testified she saw Malvo and Muhammad in the bank's parking lot, near the shooting scene, about 6:50 p.m., shortly before Meyers was shot.
Malvo did not speak and Muhammad didn't ask any questions of him. Muhammad said he had some questions for Thompson but "not while he's [Malvo] present."
The prosecution's first witness, a British army sniper expert, gave jurors a brief lesson on military sniper practices.
Sgt. Maj. Mark Spicer said a sniper's "main weapon is his ability to spread terror over a much larger force than himself," according to an Associated Press report.
Spicer said snipers work in two-man teams, and it would be nearly impossible for them to be successful working alone.
He showed how an earplug, a bungee chord, walkie-talkies, road maps and other items found in Muhammad's car could be used by snipers.
But during cross-examination by Muhammad, Spicer conceded they could have more innocent uses.
"So, a map can be used for other things other than military tactics?" Muhammad asked. Spicer said it could.
At one point Muhammad asked Spicer, "Have you ever seen me shoot anyone?"
Larry George Meyers, the victim's oldest brother, also testified, describing Dean Meyers' life and his service in Vietnam, but Muhammad declined to cross-examine him.
Caught by surprise
Muhammad's request to represent himself caught the court by surprise. Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. granted his motion just minutes before opening statements were to get under way.
"I have to tell you, I think that this is a mistake -- you to do that," Millette told Muhammad. "What do you know about the legal system?"
Millette then questioned Muhammad about his education and whether he had ever been involved in a court proceeding.
"That's what you want to do, you want to represent yourself?" Millette asked again.
"Yes sir," Muhammad replied.
Millette said Muhammad's previous defense team, Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro, would serve as his standby counsel.
Outside the court, Michael Arif, the attorney for Malvo, said he was completely surprised by the move.
"I think this guy has a death wish," Arif said of Muhammad.
Prior to Monday's ruling, Muhammad refused to cooperate with what appeared to be defense attorneys' plans to show he has mental health problems.
He refused to be examined by defense psychiatric expert Park Dietz, against the advice of his lawyers.
In his opening statement, assistant prosecutor James Willett began by placing a dark bag on the prosecution's table and slowly assembling pieces of the Bushmaster rifle the prosecution believes was used in the sniper shootings. (Possible evidence)
He then handed it to a deputy sheriff for inspection, and when it was handed back, he clicked the rifle's folding bipod legs out and rested it on the prosecution's table.
Willett showed the jury photographs of a hole in Muhammad's car that authorities say he and Malvo shot through, so they wouldn't be seen.
"There will be no eyewitness testimony in any of these shootings, that is how clever he [Muhammad] is," Willett said.
Willett told jurors he would describe 16 shootings allegedly involving Muhammad, including shootings in Montgomery, Alabama, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The terrorism charge against Muhammad requires prosecutors to prove he committed at least two shootings in a three-year period.