John Muhammad, the elder statesman of the two snipers who terrorized the greater Washington area in 2002, is being tried in Maryland, after already having been convicted and sentenced to death in Virginia.
Muhammad is showing his respect for State's Attorney Doug Gansler, whose office is prosecuting the case, by insisting that he can act as his own attorney and firing his public defenders. Yesterday, the judge in the case ruled that Muhammad is competent to defend himself.
While telling Muhammad, "I don't think it's the right decision," Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan acknowledged that the defendant had a constitutional right to be his own lawyer. He ruled that Muhammad understood the implications of that choice and had shown no sign of incompetence.And today, the public defenders bowed out of the case. The judge wanted to appoint two of them as standby counsel in case Muhammad decided to change his mind, but the public defenders told the judge they have a policy against such a status: "Once you discharge us, you are out."
"You haven't said anything that wasn't appropriate. You laughed when it was appropriate. You got mad when it was appropriate," Ryan said. "You've convinced me you do understand how serious this is."
I am not naive about these matters, although I would admit I'm idealistic. So what I want to ask is why Muhammad, who's competent to defend himself, isn't competent to admit that he's been caught, convicted, and sentenced to death, and to plead guilty. It would be the honorable thing to do. I really don't intend any irony here. The man participated in murder and terror and is the lowest of the low. But there comes a point at which anyone, caught fair and square, should just take his punishment like a man.