"I want them to continue," Muhammad told Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. during a morning conference at the bench yesterday. He also said that he could barely speak because of the pain in his mouth and that he believes he will be best served by the lawyers who have defended him for almost a year.
Defense lawyers said they were pleased to regain control after being fired Monday. They made gains yesterday that would have likely eluded their client, who has a 12th-grade education and sometimes appeared adrift when representing himself earlier this week.
"You don't know how emotional it is for a lawyer, with death on the table, to be sidelined," said attorney Jonathan Shapiro outside the courthouse. "All of us agreed justice was not being served to have us sit there, silent. We're greatly relieved Mr. Muhammad decided to change course."
Muhammad is charged with two counts of capital murder in the death of Dean H. Meyers, a civil engineer shot at a gas station near Manassas last October. It was one of 13 shootings in the Washington region that month that spread fear through the community.
In his sidebar conference with the judge yesterday, Muhammad said he had been hit in the mouth when he was first arrested and a filling had been knocked loose. A temporary filling had been put in, but it apparently did not take, he said.
Complicating the matter, Muhammad said he refuses to take pain medication because it would make him drowsy in the courtroom. The judge said he would try to arrange for Muhammad to see a dentist last night, and he offered to stop the trial.
"I don't want to the trial to stop," Muhammad said.
Prosecutors yesterday presented evidence from several earlier shootings that have been linked to Muhammad and his co-defendant, 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo. Jurors heard gripping testimony from a Maryland man who was shot while locking up his liquor store in Prince George's County on Sept. 15, 2002.
Muhammad Rashid said he had just turned his key to lock the store's front door when he heard two bullets scream by his head. Then, he said, he sensed a presence to his left. He turned and saw a young black man approaching him.
"I tried to wave to him and I saw his face," Rashid said. "I can see something in his hand - a pistol or revolver. I said, 'Hey! Ho!' I saw sparks from him and I felt something and then I was on the ground."
Rashid said he played dead by closing his eyes and mouth and breathing through his nose while his assailant picked through his pockets. When he felt it was safe, he called 911 from his cell phone. Prosecutors played that harrowing six-minute call in the courtroom, in which Rashid could be heard screaming and crying, "Please, oh my God, oh my God!"
Rashid was asked if he could identify the man who attacked him. He said he could. Prosecutors then called Malvo into the courtroom, where he stood flanked by two sheriff's deputies while Rashid looked him over for a moment.
"His face, his color, his physical stature is very, very similar to the guy who struck me," Rashid finally said. "I can say that he is the guy."
"He was getting a good lead on [the officer] and I decided I would try to cut him off," said James Gray, a 64-year-old newspaper executive. "As I approached him, he went into an alley, and that's when I came face-to-face with him."
Gray said he yelled at the person to stop, and the person looked him in the eye before running away.