- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Prince George's County Police yesterday said a nonfatal shooting outside a Clinton pizza parlor on Sept. 5 and another nonfatal shooting outside a liquor store in the same town on Sept. 15 are under investigation for links to the sniper suspects.
The Clinton shootings, in which a low-caliber handgun was used at close range, originally didn't seem to fit the profile of the October string of Washington-area sniper attacks.
But a laptop computer found inside a car belonging to sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo was the same make as a laptop reported stolen after the Sept. 5 shooting, law-enforcement authorities said yesterday.
Mr. Muhammad, 41, and Mr. Malvo, 17, were arrested Oct. 24 near Frederick, Md. Both are in federal custody at a maximum-security prison in Baltimore. Mr. Malvo, whose case remains closely guarded because he is a juvenile, was ordered detained during a court appearance yesterday.
Mr. Muhammad, scheduled to appear in federal court in Greenbelt for a detention hearing today, was charged in connection with 19 shootings that left 14 persons dead in Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Washington state and the District.
The discovery of the laptop computer has investigators believing the suspects also are connected to the Sept. 5 and Sept. 15 shootings. Federal authorities are conducting ballistics to confirm.
Mr. Muhammad's ex-wife Mildred Muhammad lived in Clinton with the couple's three children. She fled there from Washington to escape Mr. Muhammad, whom she had accused of kidnapping their children, according to court records.
Police said Paul LaRuffa, 55, was shot six times at close range with a low-caliber handgun about 10:15 p.m. Sept. 5 after closing Mangellina's Pizzeria on Stuart Lane.
More than $3,000 from the night's pizza sales, as well as the Sony laptop, were stolen after the shooting.
In the Sept. 15 attack, a 32-year-old clerk at Brandywine Liquors on Brandywine Road was shot and robbed as he locked the store about 10:15 p.m. A gunman ran toward the clerk and fired several shots, hitting him in the abdomen before stealing his wallet, said Prince George's County Police Cpl. Diane Richardson.
Cpl. Richardson said the victims of both shootings provided no description of their attacker, except that he was a black male. No vehicle descriptions were provided in either shooting.
Police originally thought the two shootings were linked to each other because they appeared to be random armed robberies, Cpl. Richardson said. It was only after Mr. Muhammad's ties to the Clinton area were revealed that police began looking for links to the sniper suspects.
Court papers indicated that police arresting Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo on Oct. 24 found a Sony laptop computer in their car. When police learned of "a laptop computer in [Mr. Muhammads] car, we immediately went back and looked into the [Sept. 5] shooting," Cpl. Richardson said.
Reached at his restaurant Sunday, Mr. LaRuffa told the Associated Press that he wanted to know if the laptop was his. "I wish somebody would tell me, 'Yes, it's yours, no it's not yours,' and that's what's frustrating about it," he said.
Officials with the sniper task force in Montgomery County said that while the laptop was a Sony, its serial number was "obliterated."
"It's the same make, not necessarily the same model" as the one found in the suspect's car, said Montgomery County Police Capt. Nancy Demme. "They're processing it with a fine-toothed comb."
Mr. LaRuffa spent two weeks in the hospital recovering from the six gunshot wounds. He said he was shot with a .22-caliber weapon a different gun from the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle determined to have been used in the weeks-long sniper rampage.
Investigators said they will begin comparing today ballistics evidence from the Sept. 5 shooting to the Bushmaster rifle and to a handgun found at the scene of a Montgomery, Ala., shooting that has been tied to Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo.
Receipts from a used-car dealership in Trenton, N.J., indicated Mr. Muhammad was there on Sept. 10 purchasing the Chevrolet Caprice believed to have been used in the sniper rampage.
If the Sept. 5 and Sept. 15 shootings are linked to the sniper attacks, it will mean police suspect Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were in Clinton, southeast of Baltimore, before traveling to New Jersey to buy the car. On Friday, the sniper task force confirmed that the two are linked to a Sept. 14 shooting at the Hillandale Beer and Wine store in Silver Spring.
After purchasing the Caprice in Trenton, the suspects would have gone back to suburban Washington to commit the Sept. 14 and Sept. 15 shootings, then traveled to Alabama and Louisiana and committed more shootings before returning to the Washington area.
The large area of the attacks and the fact that Mr. Malvo is a minor have complicated the legal proceedings. Attorney General John Ashcroft could decide as early as this week where the first prosecution of the suspects will be conducted.
Ten of the killings occurred between Oct. 2 and Oct. 22 in Maryland, Virginia and the District. On Oct. 3, five victims were shot within a 2.5-mile radius in Montgomery County and the District.

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