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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Sniper Suspect Gets Right to Represent Himself

Aired October 20, 2003 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We do have breaking news out of Virginia Beach, Virginia, word that sniper suspect and defendant John Allen Muhammad has asked for the right to represent himself.
Our Patty Davis is in Virginia Beach with the latest on that.

Patty, good morning.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Daryn. Just in the courtroom just a few moments ago that motion being argued and the judge Leroy Mullet (ph) granting it. He is allowing John Muhammad to act as his own attorney, to defend himself. His two attorneys, Mr. Greenspun and Mr. Shapiro, will act as standby counsel. And this was on a day when we expected opening arguments to get under way. The prosecution and the defense were ready to go. Now it looks like Mr. Muhammad will be making those defense arguments.

Now he is being tried for the murder of Dean Myers. Myers was gunned down at a gas station in Manassas, Virginia on October 9th, shot in the head October 9th last year. Now he could get the death penalty if he is convicted.

Also perhaps in that courtroom today, we know he's here in Virginia Beach, his alleged accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo. The prosecution apparently wanting to bring him in so that witnesses can identify him as -- in connection Mr. with John Muhammad. A very big media presence here. Some 400 media have been credentialed to cover this trial, a very big police presence as well, very tightly controlled access here.

Also the Bushmaster rifle we saw come in a little while ago, what we believe was the Bushmaster rifle, the alleged murder weapon in many of these sniper killings in the Washington D.C. Area last October. The public is also getting a chance to go inside this courtroom. They had to go in by Lottery. About 1,800 people will come in and out via that lottery. The trial here, of course, moved because of massive publicity, from northern Virginia here to Virginia Beach. So very big developments today. The judge granting the motion for Mr. Muhammad to defend himself in court -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Patty, this obviously is a huge development. Was there any explanation? Were we able to hear any of his arguments why John Allan Muhammad might be a good idea?

DAVIS: Well, the trial started a little bit late today, so they may have been -- the judge may have been aware this was going to happen. But it went silent. I am in the media overflow room, and they were having a session just in front of the judge. They went up to the judge's desk there and media were not allowed to listen in at that point. So we don't know exactly how it transpired. I know that the judge and Mr. Muhammad were talking to one another very closely. So, he -- obviously was making his case there that he wanted to defend himself -- Daryn.

KAGAN: In fact, has the trial started? Have opening statements begun?

DAVIS: They have not begun. They were discussing that motion. And so when I came out here to do this live shot, they were still in the process of discussing that, and then they should move on to those opening statements -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, let's hope it doesn't turn into a circus atmosphere there in Virginia Beach. Patty, thank you for that.

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