The last time Robert F. Horan Jr. prosecuted a Fairfax County case outside of Fairfax, he traveled west of Detroit in 1974 to Clintwood, Va., a city closer to the capital of seven states than it is to Fairfax.
In 1972, Horan made Virginia Beach his temporary home when he prosecuted a murder case involving a victim who went to school at the Madeira School in McLean.
“The girl was tied to a tree, sexually assaulted and left there to die,” Horan said. “That was a very, very sensational case.”
Horan has tried numerous high-profile Fairfax cases since then, such as the following:
* Mir Aimal Kasi, who was executed in 2002 after killing two CIA employees in McLean in 1993;
* Dwayne Allen Wright, who became the first person executed in Virginia for crimes committed as a juvenile since modern death penalty laws changed in 1972. Wright was executed in 1998 for the 1989 murder of Ethiopian immigrant Saba Tekle. Wright attempted to rape Tekle before shooting her in the back as she attempted to flee;
* James Leroy Breeden, who shot five people, killing four of them, at a Roy Rogers restaurant on Little River Turnpike in Annandale in 1976. The case was the largest mass murder case in Fairfax County.
Horan didn’t have to leave Fairfax County to try any of these cases — the court was able to seat a jury in each case. Now, more than three decades since the last time a Fairfax County case was moved outside of Fairfax, Horan will be on the road again to prosecute teen-age sniper defendant Lee Boyd Malvo, 200 miles from the Fairfax courthouse.
“I must confess, I guess I was in denial. I was hoping it would be tried here,” Horan said.
“Logistically, it’s a bear,” he said.
JUDGE JANE Marum Roush, of the Fairfax Circuit Court, ordered Malvo’s trial to be moved to Chesapeake, a Virginia city of approximately 200,000 people, which is close to 200 miles south of Fairfax just above the North Carolina border.
“It is my best judgment that the defendant’s right to a fair trial requires that venue in this case be transferred from Fairfax County,” Roush wrote in a letter to Horan and to Malvo’s defense attorneys Michael S. Arif and Craig S. Cooley, on Wednesday, July 2.
Arif and Cooley requested a change of venue at a hearing before Roush on June 2, claiming that potential jurors from Fairfax County would be biased against Malvo, 18, because of the impact of the sniper attacks that left 10 dead and three injured in the Washington area last October.
“It affected millions of people in the Washington area,” Cooley argued during the hearing on June 2. “If you can’t call them victims, you can call them too personally involved to fairly judge Lee Boyd Malvo.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Roush said, at the time of the hearing.
Thirty days later, Roush said the general public suffered from fear caused by sniper attacks, and for that reason she ordered the trial moved to Chesapeake.
“Indeed, I believe that venue should be transferred to a jurisdiction outside of the Washington/Richmond corridor, where many citizens lived in fear during the month of October 2002,” she wrote, in her three-page ruling.
MOVING THE TRIAL, which is currently scheduled for Nov. 10, 2003, will have an enormous impact, not only on prosecuting and defense attorneys and Judge Roush and her staff, but on witnesses and the family members of sniper victims, too.
“It’s a logistical nightmare, really,” Horan said. “It’s one thing to have the number of witnesses we have in this case and put them on call; they can sit at work or sit at home, and when we call they can be here in 30 minutes. You can’t do that from 200 miles away.”
Horan said he hasn’t even begun to consider the financial costs associated with moving the trial, but housing witnesses in hotels will be just one of the accommodations that must be made.
A number of family members of the victims had planned on being at the trial in Fairfax, Horan said. For example, William “Ted” Franklin — husband of Linda Franklin, who was murdered on Oct. 14, 2002, outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church — has been to every hearing concerning the case since it was transferred to the Fairfax Circuit Court.
Malvo is charged with the capital murder of Linda Franklin, who was from Arlington. Sniper defendant John Muhammad, 42, is being tried in Prince William County in October 2003 for the murder of Dean Harold Myers, 53, in Manassas.
CHESAPEAKE MAYOR William E. Ward and the Chesapeake City Council opposed the transfer of Malvo’s case to Chesapeake, according to Roush. She said the judges of the First Judicial Circuit in Chesapeake also had concerns.
“Certainly the concerns of Mayor Ward, the City Council and the judges of the First Circuit are not unjustified,” Roush wrote.
“Having decided that venue ought to be changed in this case, I conclude that the City of Chesapeake is the best venue in the commonwealth of Virginia for this case to be tried.”
Chesapeake was ranked by the FBI as one of the safest cities of its size in the country, according to Chesapeake’s economic development Web site.