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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Muhammad No Longer Representing Self

Aired October 22, 2003 - 10:16   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: First this breaking news out of Virginia Beach, Virginia and that is word that John Allen Muhammad has decided to go back to his defense attorneys instead of representing himself. Let's bring in our Patty Davis with more too that. Patty, good morning.
PATTY DAVIS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, good morning. Certainly another bizarre twist in this case. The judge, LeRoy Millette, just coming out saying that John Muhammad has decided it is not in his best interest to represent himself, so the judge is allowing the two attorneys, Jonathan Shapiro and Peter Greenspun, his defense attorneys, to represent Muhammad once again.

Now just on Monday was the first time Muhammad came out and said, I want to be my own defense attorney. And he had them just act as standby attorneys. He said a rambling opening statement, said he did not commit the crimes that he was accused of.

Apparently, he had differences of opinion with those two attorneys. But now he has been convinced, we're told, that he should let those lawyers take over again. Now in court, the judge did not give an explanation, neither did Muhammad as to why he's made that decision.

Now today there have been 19 witnesses over the past two days. He is certainly in -- by no means an experienced defense attorney. His attorneys are known for being very methodical. Legal experts have said over the past several days that John Muhammad defending himself was very risky. He faces the death penalty here. And most of these defendants who do decide to represent themselves do not prevail in cases like this.

Now we saw his attorneys, Jonathan Shapiro and Peter Greenspun, last night going into jail to see Mr. Muhammad. Perhaps that's when that conversation took place. But they had had no comment up until now as to why they were removed in the first place or how they reacted to it. Now apparently they are back in control -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, Patty, we'll let you get back in the trial and bring you back when there are more developments as there will most likely be as this one has been developing. Thank you for that.

We have on the phone with us right now our legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin to talk about this latest twist. Jeff, good morning and what do you make of it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well John Muhammad may be nuts, but he's not crazy.

KAGAN: OK.

TOOBIN: He has obviously made the right decision in getting his lawyers back involved in the case, keeping in mind that this is a very difficult case to win even with lawyers. He at least can have the advice of people who have his interests with the death penalty part of the case, at least, as well as the guilt phase.

You know there are two parts of this trial assuming he's convicted and he really does need experienced lawyers in the death penalty part of the case.

KAGAN: And Patty brought up some interesting numbers. Only two days of the trial so far and 19 witnesses. This is very intense and there's no way someone with a high school diploma can know exactly how to handle evidence and tricks and twists and turns of the prosecution.

TOOBIN: Well, 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, but he has probably already alienated the jury to a certain extent already by his bizarre performance. But, you know, better late than never.

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

TOOBIN: Absolutely. His lawyers can't say we'd like to cross examine those first 19 again. He'd lost his chance to cross examine them. That's just too bad.

But, in a case like this, there will be lots of witnesses, lots of short witnesses. And he will have better opportunities -- his lawyers will have other opportunities in the future, but he's certainly better off with the lawyers than without them.

KAGAN: All right. Jeffrey Toobin. Thanks for joining us on the phone and we appreciate you being available for us as this develops.

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