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On The Scene

Jeffrey Toobin: Muhammad made the right decision

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin

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John Allen Muhammad
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(CNN) -- Just two days after requesting to represent himself at trial, sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad decided Wednesday he no longer wants to be in charge of his defense. Muhammad's standby lawyers returned to their former roles as defense lawyers.

CNN anchor Daryn Kagan spoke to CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin about the latest twist in Muhammad's trial.

TOOBIN: Well, John Muhammad may be nuts, but he is not crazy. He has obviously made the right decision in getting his lawyers back involved in the case. Keep in mind that this is a very difficult case to win even with lawyers.

He at least has the advice of people who have his interest with the death penalty part of the case, as well as the guilt phase. There are two parts to this trial, assuming he's convicted, and he really needs experienced lawyers for the death penalty part of the case.

KAGAN: Only two days to the trial so far and [already] 19 witnesses. This is very intense and there is no way someone with a high school diploma can know exactly how to handle evidence and the tricks, twists and turns of the prosecution.

TOOBIN: And the way a good lawyer cross-examines is you prepare, and you look at prior statements of the witnesses, you look at other evidence in the case with which you might cross-examine. He was obviously unprepared to do that. These lawyers know how to cross-examine, know how to do preparation. It was the only sane decision.

He has probably already alienated the jury to a certain extent by his bizarre performance, but better late than never.

KAGAN: What happens to everything that has taken place up to this point with Muhammad as his own defense attorney? As we said, 19 witnesses in two days. It still stands in the record?

TOOBIN: Absolutely, and his lawyers can't say, "Oh, we'd like to cross-examine those first 19 again." He has lost his chance to cross-examine them. That's just too bad, but in a case like this there are going to be lots of witnesses, and his lawyers will have other opportunities in the future. He is definitely better off with the lawyers than without them.


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