Mohammed Whitaker, the man accused of being the highway shooter who terrorized area motorists this spring, received an admonishment from a judge Wednesday for recently sharing a sliver of case discovery materials with the media.
“This is a really, really bad idea,” Jackson County Circuit Judge Robert M. Schieber told Whitaker while holding up a copy of a Kansas City Star article published Tuesday. “My job is to provide an even playing field. … I will not and cannot allow you or the state to try this case in the press.”
Schieber accused Whitaker of making it difficult for him to conduct a fair trial with an impartial jury. At one point, he pounded his fist on the bench and said Whitaker’s action “flies in the face of everything I am about.”
“Be mindful, be careful,” Schieber told Whitaker, 28, a former south Kansas City resident who moved to Grandview shortly before his April 17 arrest. “Don’t do it.”
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Prosecutors have alleged that Whitaker committed 10 shootings, including two that wounded motorists, on area roadways in March and April. Most happened in the Three Trails Crossing area.
Investigators linked the shootings through ballistics testing to one .380-caliber weapon, according to court documents. Those documents also detail a range of evidence that investigators say points to Whitaker as the shooter.
Police arrested him after trailing him and observing his attempted purchase of a handgun and his erratic driving on area highways. They recovered a .380-caliber handgun from his home but have not said whether testing has matched it to the shootings. They also discovered a bullet hole in his car from a shot fired from inside the vehicle, court records say.
Whitaker called The Star at least eight times in recent weeks, pitching his case that one document among hundreds of pages of discovery items shows he could not have committed an April 2 shooting in the Three Trails Crossing area. The document places his cellphone in use in Overland Park 9 miles from the shooting scene about six minutes before it reportedly happened during rush-hour traffic.
However, that victim waited four days to report the shooting to police, who listed the incident time as “approximately” 5:30 p.m. in the police report. Whitaker based his innocence argument on the fact it usually took him 20 minutes to cover those 9 miles after leaving work during rush hour, making the timing of the shooting key to his defense claim.
As he listened to the judge scold him Wednesday, Whitaker leaned forward in his chair and nodded his head.
“I don’t know if I can put a gag order on you,” Schieber said. “I can order that you abide by the Supreme Court rule” that says discovery material should not be shared with others.
“I want you to get a fair trial,” Schieber said. “That is my goal.”
Schieber set an April 20 trial date.