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Legal fees for sniper case near $1-million

By Associated Press
Published October 14, 2003

FAIRFAX, Va. - With the first trial in the Washington sniper case set to begin today, the court-appointed lawyers for the two defendants have submitted nearly $900,000 in bills for reimbursement by Virginia taxpayers.

The attorneys appear to be on their way to racking up the most expensive court-appointed defenses in Virginia history, though nobody keeps statistics on such matters.

According to the Virginia Supreme Court, which keeps track of expenses incurred for indigent defendants, John Allen Muhammad's lawyers have filed for $401,785 through September. Lee Boyd Malvo's lawyers have filed for $478,677.

The bills include lawyers' fees of $125 an hour and payments for court-appointed investigators, mental health experts and forensic experts. The bills do not include the costs of the trials themselves, which will require housing for the lawyers and witnesses.

Both trials have been moved about 200 miles from the Washington suburbs to Hampton Roads in an attempt to find an unbiased jury.

Muhammad, 42, goes on trial today in Virginia Beach in the Oct. 9 shooting of Dean Harold Meyers outside a Manassas gas station. Malvo's trial, in the Oct. 14 shooting death of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, begins Nov. 10 in Chesapeake. Muhammad's trial is expected to take six weeks; Malvo's trial perhaps four.

The two are charged with 13 shootings, including 10 killings, over a three-week span last October in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. They are suspected or charged in shootings in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arizona and Washington state.

Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Horan Jr. said he has never seen so much money spent on a defense in the 37 years he has served as chief prosecutor in Virginia's most populous county.

"My personal view is that Virginia made a very bad mistake when they took the cap off the fees" paid to court-appointed defense lawyers in capital cases, Horan said. "It's an open invitation to file any motion under the sun. It's just totally changed the landscape on these things."

The prosecution's costs are unclear.

Horan said any figure would be a guess because many of the witnesses are government employees who get paid whether or not they work on the sniper case.

In Virginia, court-appointed lawyers' fees are usually capped at $1,235, but since the late 1980s, that doesn't apply to capital murder cases.

Craig Cooley, one of Malvo's lawyers, said the case "is incredibly more complex" than a typical capital case, with a sprawling investigation that includes more than a dozen shooting scenes.

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