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Power failure closes Muhammad trial for a day

Muhammad listens as attorneys Peter Greenspun, center, and Jonathan Shapiro watch Wednesday's trial proceedings.
Muhammad listens as attorneys Peter Greenspun, center, and Jonathan Shapiro watch Wednesday's trial proceedings.

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CNN's Jeanne Meserve on sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad's decision to reinstate his attorneys.
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Sniper Shootings
John Allen Muhammad
Lee Boyd Malvo
Crime, Law and Justice

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) -- Day four in the trial of Washington-area sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad was postponed until Friday following a power failure at the Virginia courthouse.

Dominion Power spokesman Chuck Penn said power may be restored by Thursday afternoon. But Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy Millette, Jr. decided to resume Muhammad's trial Friday. Other scheduled court cases in the building also were delayed by a day.

Utility workers were searching for the cause; Chuck Penn said officials were "fairly confident" an underground cable is involved, and that there may also be a problem with the transformer that sends electricity to the building. The power failure prompted not only pragmatic concerns but also worries about security -- most magnetometers used to screen people before they enter the building were not working.

The power failure was the latest in a string of events that marked the first days of Muhammad's trial as one of the most unusual high-profile murder trials in recent memory. Muhammad began the week by stunning the judge, prosecutors and his own defense attorneys by demanding to represent himself.

After drawing objections and warnings from prosecutors and the judge for his cross-examination tactics, Muhammad reversed course on Wednesday and asked for his attorneys to return to representing him at his trial, a decision in part prompted by pain from a tooth abscess.

Muhammad's decision to relinquish self-representation relieved his attorneys, who sat by and watched their client awkwardly go through opening statements and cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.

"You don't know how emotional it is for a lawyer, with death on the table, to be sidelined," said defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro. "We're greatly relieved that Mr. Muhammad decided to change course."

Wednesday's about-face by Muhammad began an emotional day that featured testimony about shootings that preceded last year's sniper attacks, and another appearance by fellow sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, whose trial in connection with the shootings is scheduled to begin next month.

During the first of his three appearances in the courtroom Wednesday, Malvo made eye contact with Muhammad, who then raised his hand in a loose fist and shook it several times in Malvo's direction.

Muhammad, 42, is being tried for murder in the slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, who was gunned down at a gas station in Manassas, Virginia. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Meyers was one of 10 people killed during a series of sniper slayings last October in the metro Washington area that police say were carried out by Muhammad and Malvo, now 18. Three people were wounded. (Victims of the sniper attacks)

Bench conference

On Monday, Muhammad surprised the court by asking Judge Millette to represent himself. Millette granted his request. (Monday's bench discussion)

On Wednesday Millette announced Muhammad's change of heart about representing himself as court began, after two bench conferences with the defendant, prosecutors and the two attorneys who have been advising Muhammad, Shapiro and Peter Greenspun.

A transcript of Wednesday's bench conferences shows that Muhammad said he wanted his lawyers to speak for him because of pain from his tooth, but he was advised that the only way that could happen was if he waived his right to represent himself. (More on Wednesday's bench conversation)

The judge warned Muhammad that he would not be allowed to change his mind again; Muhammad said he understood.

Tearful testimony

Wednesday's testimony focused on two shootings that preceded the sniper spree in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Lee Boyd Malvo's first appearance Wednesday came when prosecutors brought him into the courtroom to see if he could be identified by Muhammad Rashid, a victim of a September 15, 2002 shooting in front of a Brandywine, Maryland, liquor store.

"The face, his color and his physical structure is very, very similar," said Rashid, who was wounded in front of a Brandywine, Maryland, liquor store on September 15, 2002, by a young man with a handgun. However, under cross-examination, Rashid could not make a positive identification.

Rashid said he was shot by a young man with a handgun, who approached him after two bullets apparently hit the door of the liquor store. The shooter plundered his pockets, as Rashid feigned death, he said.

James Allen Gray wipes his face Wednesday after he identified Lee Boyd Malvo during testimony in the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad,
James Allen Gray wipes his face Wednesday after he identified Lee Boyd Malvo during testimony in the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad,

In mid-afternoon, prosecutors began presenting evidence about a September 21, 2002 shooting at a Montgomery, Alabama, liquor store. James Allen Gray, dissolved into tears as he identified Malvo as the man he saw running away from police.

"His eyes were big and they were round, and he looked wild, like he was in some kind of a frenzy," Gray said.

Gray said he saw a young man running from police in a commercial area and gave chase down an alley between two buildings. "I got a good look at him," Gray said.

Gray admitted under cross-examination that he knew the woman who was killed in the shooting and wanted her murderer caught. He also acknowledged that he had originally told police that he did not believe the person he chased was African American.

"I characterized it to police as I thought he was a bi-racial subject. I simply said I thought this kid was ... someone between 17 and 21 years old," Gray said.

Gray said that when shown a photo of Malvo following his arrest, he told police, "There's only one thing missing here; he's not the right color."

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the last killing. Muhammad and Malvo were captured at a Maryland rest stop two days later.

CNN correspondents Jeanne Meserve and Patty Davis and Producer Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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