First of D.C.-Area Sniper Shooting Trials Begins
VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) --A police officer testified Tuesday that he saw and spoke to defendant suspect John Allen Muhammad immediately after of one of the sniper shootings a year ago -- but said he missed a clue and let him get away.
Prince William County, Virginia, police Officer Steven Bailey said he interrogated people in the parking lot of a restaurant that authorities said the sniper was hiding when he shot and killed a man at a Sunoco service station across the street.
Bailey testified that he saw Muhammad in a dark Chevrolet Caprice and asked him what he was doing there. Muhammad politely replied that he had been driving home, had gotten off of a nearby interstate and that police had directed him into the parking lot, Bailey said.
In fact, police had been guiding people away from the area at the time.
In cross-examination, Muhammad, who is representing himself, asked whether his claim that police directed him into the lot made sense.
"No, I didn't catch on," Bailey replied. "I wish I had."
Bailey testified that he had been writing down the makes and tag numbers of the vehicles in the lot -- but had stopped, because people were anxious to get out of the area.
Prosecutors complained that Muhammad -- who stunned court watchers Monday when he was granted permission to act as his own lawyer -- was consulting too frequently with his attorneys and therefore acting as a co-counsel.
"This is not what you ordered," complained prosecutor Richard Conway. "This is not what the law requires."
Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. concurred.
"You can represent yourself, or they can represent you," Millette told Muhammad.
Peter Greenspun, one of Muhammad's two attorneys, argued that he and fellow standby counsel Jonathan Shapiro had not gone too far.
"I have not been pumping him full of stuff," Greenspun said. "We have shown a great deal of restraint."
Millette agreed to move the attorneys farther away from Muhammad in the courtroom, and said Muhammad appeared to be representing himself competently.
Earlier, Muhammad withdrew a motion that might have allowed him to present mental health testimony in the sentencing phase if he were to be convicted.
Millette had ruled that Muhammad could not introduce mental health testimony because he declined to be examined by a prosecution psychologist. Muhammad's attorneys then filed a motion asking Millette to reconsider.
In withdrawing that motion Tuesday, Muhammad took away the possibility of presenting mental health evidence in hopes of avoiding a death sentence.
Muhammad, 42, insisted he was not involved in the string of shootings that terrorized the Washington area a year ago. Prosecutors say he and 18-year-old co-defendant Lee Boyd Malvo were responsible for a series of sniper shootings that left 10 people dead and three wounded.
Prosecutors said they would present evidence linking Muhammad and Malvo to 16 shootings, including incidents in Montgomery, Alabama, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Muhammad faces a murder charge for the death of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, who was gunned down at the Manassas Sunoco on October 9, 2002.
He could face capital punishment if prosecutors show that he murdered at least two people in a three-year period.
Muhammad also is charged with terrorism, conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm.
The terrorism charge also carries a possible death sentence. To win a conviction on that count, prosecutors need to show that Muhammad intimidated or attempted to intimidate the public or the government through the sniper shootings.
The prosecution Tuesday called an eyewitness who was near Meyers when he was killed. The witness said he was at the next pump at the Sunoco, heard the gunshot, and saw Meyers on the ground, dying.
The witness said he also thought the shot came from the restaurant across the street.
But under cross-examination by Muhammad, the witness said he had seen neither the defendant nor his car.
The prosecution admitted it has no eyewitnesses who saw Muhammad carry out the Sunoco shooting -- or any of the sniper shootings -- but said it does have evidence that will prove his guilt.