The caution steering motorists away from the vicinity has nothing to do with road work. It refers to the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad, which opens Tuesday in the slaying of Dean H. Meyers in Prince William County.
The trial, which is expected to last six to eight weeks, is causing headaches for residents trying to get anything accomplished at the sprawling municipal complex where the courthouse is located.
Much routine city business has been interrupted to make room for a jury pool triple its normal size, a contingent of more than 200 reporters who have turned the library administration building into a newsroom and a caravan of television trucks parked on a side street blocked by Jersey barriers.
Circuit Court jury trials have been suspended for the next two weeks. Municipal employees have been asked to drive city-owned cars to and from work, freeing up the spaces in which they would park their own vehicles. Road construction has been pushed back until after the trial, and weekly garbage collection has been pushed up to 7 a.m. before each day’s testimony starts. The city even took out an ad suggesting that residents use the city’s Web site more and visit City Hall less during the trial’s duration.
Virginia Beach has prepared for the Muhammad trial like a hostess asked to throw a party for an office colleague she hardly knows. The city doesn’t particularly enjoy it, it can barely afford it after Hurricane Isabel, but it feels it cannot refuse.
“Being part of a democratic society, we can’t believe in the rule of law and not be willing to support it,” said Meyera E. Oberndorf, the mayor for the past 15 years. “It’s like being called to jury duty. You may not like it. But you have the responsibility as a citizen to participate.”