Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad’s defense attorneys, Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro (pictured with the defense team) plan to present opening statements Monday morning, followed by the beginning of the prosecution’s case. The day-long questioning of potential jurors showed the lawyers intend to combat the death penalty, as they made sure that each potential juror could consider life in prison without parole in addition to a death sentence, as Virginia law requires. Most of those questioned said they had not really thought about imposing a death sentence, and, when pressed, most said they could consider it.

Thirteen people were approved Wednesday for the final pool of jurors. Prince William County Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. is hoping to approve 27 and allow attorneys on both sides to whittle the panel to the 12 jurors and three alternates who will actually sit in judgment.

Moving relatively quickly for a death penalty case, prosecutors and defense lawyers screened jurors throughout the day. The lawyers spent about 20 minutes questioning jurors individually on their views of the death penalty and pretrial publicity and whether they were personally affected by the 13 sniper shootings in the Washington region last year.

The sessions with jurors appeared to justify Millette’s decision to move the trial out of Prince William and into the Hampton Roads region: None of the potential jurors testified to being personally influenced by the sniper shootings last October, and only a few said they followed the case in the newspapers or on television.

Millette moved the trial after Muhammad’s defense team raised concerns that Prince William residents’ lives were altered by the shootings in Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District. The lawyers also argued that pretrial publicity was overwhelming in the Washington region and tainted the jury pool. Muhammad, 42, is being tried in the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean H. Meyers, 53, who was killed at a gas station outside Manassas.

Only two of the 15 potential jurors interviewed Wednesday were excused — one for showing signs of having made up her mind about Muhammad and another for having trouble answering questions about the imposition of the death penalty.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett is expected to lay out the case against Muhammad.

“It will allow us to start and then just keep going,” Greenspun said yesterday, adding that a weekend break might be disruptive if they started Friday.

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