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Judge orders change of venue for teen sniper defendant

Trial in fall will be moved to southeast Virginia

From Mike Ahlers

Lee Boyd  Malvo in December 2002
Lee Boyd Malvo in December 2002

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CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports on the change of venue for teen sniper suspect Lee Malvo.
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• Order changing venue: Commonwealth of Virginia v. Malvo  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
Indictment  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
• Court Case coverage external link

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Virginia judge on Wednesday ordered a new location for the trial of sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, moving the case from the Washington, D.C., area 200 miles south to Chesapeake, Virginia.

It is the first time in a quarter century that a trial has been moved from Fairfax County, Virginia.

Fairfax County, Virginia, Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush said she feared Malvo would not be able to get a fair trial in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, where the sniper attacks terrorized residents over a three-week period last fall.

"It is in my best judgment that the defendant's right to a fair trial requires that the venue in this case be transferred from Fairfax County," Roush wrote.

Wednesday's ruling followed attempts earlier this week by the defense team for John Allen Muhammad, Malvo's alleged accomplice in the sniper shootings, to change the location of his trial. The judge in that case said he would consider the motion.

Malvo is charged with the October 14 shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin. Muhammad faces trial in Prince William County, Virginia, for the October 9, 2002, shooting of Dean Harold Meyers in Manassas, Virginia.

Together, 18-year-old Malvo and Muhammad, 42, have been charged with 10 killings in the Washington, D.C. area last fall, and have been linked to slayings in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Washington state in what prosecutors have said was a scheme to extort $10 million from the government.

Malvo is scheduled to stand trial in November. If convicted of capital murder, Malvo could face the death penalty.

Muhammad is scheduled to stand trial for the October 9, 2002, murder of Dean Harold Meyers at a Sunoco gas station in Manassas, Virginia.

Pretrial publicity tainted jury pool, defense argues

Malvo's attorneys earlier said the decision to seek a change of venue was a difficult one, particularly because a change would mean the case would almost certainly be moved to a more conservative area of the state.

"We agonized over this," attorney Michael Arif said. "It was not an easy decision."

But Arif said the impact of the sniper shootings was felt by almost everyone in the area, many who feared for their lives or were inconvenienced by police roadblocks, closed schools or rescheduled ball games.

In court records and at a June 2 hearing, Arif argued that publicity about Malvo's alleged confession has tainted the pool of potential jurors in Fairfax County. Arif argued since Malvo is charged with committing an act of terrorism "every citizen of Fairfax County is a member of the victim class and would not be a disinterested trier of fact," the motion says.

Malvo attorney Michael Arif: Seeking venue change
Malvo attorney Michael Arif: Seeking venue change "was not an easy decision."

Prosecutors, however, argued to keep the trial location in Fairfax County.

"Such a claim is factually preposterous," Prosecutor Robert Horan argued in papers responding to Malvo's motion. "It raises the notion of 'victimhood' to a totally new dimension, a dimension where one is a victim whether he or she knows it or not."

Horan argued that Fairfax County was able to find an impartial jury in the case of Mir Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani national who gunned down two CIA analysts outside the agency's Langley headquarters in 1993, Horan said. In that case, it took only 58 jurors to obtain a panel of 24, he said.

Chesapeake Mayor William Ward said he and other city officials did not support the move because of cost, security issues and the disruption a trial would cause. The city is part of a cluster of southeastern Virginia cities that includes Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth, Hampton and Virginia Beach.

He said authorities "will work with the court in every possible way during this adjudication of the case and try to minimize as much as possible the disruption to the normal flow of activities here in Chesapeake."

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