VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad won the right to act as his own lawyer Monday in a surprise, last-minute request at his murder trial, then broke a year of stony silence with a rambling opening statement in which he assured jurors, I had nothing to do with these crimes.
It was not clear why Muhammad decided to fire his lawyers, who will serve as standby counsel. Just last week, Muhammad told Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. that he was satisfied with his attorneys.
One of the things we're here for today is to find out what everyone wants to know. What happened? Muhammad told the jury at the outset of his 20-minute statement. He talked about the meaning of truth but said nothing about the shootings except to deny involvement.
I know what happened. I know what didn't happen. They're basing what they said about me on a theory, he told jurors. If we monitor (the evidence) step by step, it will all show I had nothing to do with these crimes.
Muhammad, 42, is charged in the slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, a 53-year-old Vietnam veteran who was gunned down outside a northern Virginia gas station last October. He was the seventh victim of a three-week shooting spree that left 10 people dead in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Muhammad and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, were arrested last Oct. 24 at a highway rest stop in Maryland. Prosecutors have said the shootings were part of a plot to extort $10 million from the government.
Prosecutors say Malvo has made several statements to police and jail guards in which he confessed involvement in many of last fall's sniper shootings in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Muhammad barely spoke to investigators, and offered only terse, one-word answers to questions in many pretrial hearings.
Now Muhammad will have to speak for himself and could cross-examine his accusers, possibly including survivors of the sniper shootings.
Muhammad spoke at length during his opening statement about the meaning of truth, saying at one point, Jesus said, 'Ye shall know the truth.' He also said he hopes to be found innocent by the grace of Allah.
There's three truths. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I always thought there was just one truth, he said. The facts should help us identify what's a lie, what's not a lie, he said.
He also spoke about his children, whom he said he loves very much.
He said he once punished his daughter for eating chocolate cookies, only to find out later that the daughter had not disobeyed him. Similarly, he said, he is being persecuted by authorities who don't know the truth behind the sniper spree.
Muhammad asked the jury to pay close attention to the facts because my life and my son's life is on the line, apparently a reference to Malvo. Muhammad and Malvo are not related, but they have referred to each other as father and son.