UPDATE: Appeals court to decide if sniper gets new trial

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A lawyer for John Allen Muhammad says the sniper mastermind never should have been allowed to act as his own lawyer for part of his 2003 capital murder trial.

Jonathan Sheldon told a federal appeals court Tuesday that the failure of Muhammad's trial attorneys to tell a judge about their client's mental health issues violated his constitutional right to effective counsel.

A lawyer for the state of Virginia argued that Muhammad's competency was never an issue in his trial for one of the 10 murders committed by Muhammad and teenage accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo.

Muhammad was sentenced to death, and Malvo is serving a life term for the 2002 Washington, D.C.-area shooting spree.

The federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., is expected to rule in several weeks.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.