- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

Sniper suspects John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad appeared in separate Virginia courtrooms yesterday, taking their first steps down a legal path prosecutors hope will end with their executions.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. told a juvenile court judge that witnesses will place Mr. Malvo, 17, near three sniper shootings in Virginia last month. He said the teen's fingerprints were lifted from the Bushmaster .223 rifle that was ballistically linked to the shootings and that they were the only fingerprints found on the rifle.
Mr. Horan also told the judge that the juvenile tried to escape from police custody in Baltimore a day after his arrest by breaking through ceiling tiles and climbing along the rafters. Mr. Malvo fell through the ceiling of an office two doors down from where he was being held.
Judge Charles J. Maxfield ordered Mr. Malvo, a Jamaican citizen, held without bail in the maximum-security Fairfax County adult detention center but separated from the adult inmate population. He set a preliminary hearing for Dec. 5.
Less than 15 miles away, in Prince William County, Va., Mr. Muhammad, suspected as the teen's mentor and accomplice, made his first appearance in a Virginia court. Mr. Muhammad, 41, wore an orange prison-issue jumpsuit and stood solemnly during the five-minute hearing, where Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. read the charges: two counts of capital murder and one count each of conspiracy to commit murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Mr. Muhammad is accused in the Oct. 9 death of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, who was gunned down while pumping gas at 9:30 p.m. at the Battlefield Sunoco station in Manassas. Judge Whisenant asked Mr. Muhammad whether he wanted a court-appointed lawyer, to which the suspect replied in a controlled and deliberate manner, "I thought I already had counsel."
The judge explained that the federally appointed public defender who had been representing Mr. Muhammad would not be able to represent him in Virginia and again asked whether he wanted a lawyer appointed. Mr. Muhammad responded, "I don't know what to say, sir."
The judge said he would appoint a lawyer and set another hearing for Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Prince George's County police announced last night that they have linked the sniper suspects to a nonfatal shooting Sept. 5 in which a restaurant employee was shot six times outside a pizzeria in Clinton.
Capt. Andy Ellis said police made the connection through "evidence," declining to say whether that evidence included a ballistics match or the Sony laptop computer stolen from the victim along with $3,000. A laptop computer of the same model was found in Mr. Muhammad's posession at the time of his arrest.
Capt. Ellis said police are still working to determine whether another nonfatal shooting in Clinton, on Sept. 15, is linked to the sniper suspects.
Yesterday's hearings came a day after Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were transferred from a super-maximum-security prison in Baltimore. The pair were arrested Oct. 24 after a motorist noticed them sleeping in their car at a rest stop on Interstate 70 near Frederick, Md.
They were first charged by State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler in Montgomery County, where six persons were slain during the fast-paced shooting spree last month. On Thursday, however, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the suspects would be sent to Virginia for separate trials.
Mr. Ashcroft said he had spoken with officials from seven jurisdictions involved in the investigation into the 23-day shooting spree and concluded that Fairfax and Prince William counties had "the best law, the best facts and the best range of available penalties."
Virginia's laws allow the most ample opportunities to obtain the death penalty: The state allows the execution of 17-year-olds and has put to death 86 persons since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, more than any other state except Texas.
Mr. Horan and Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert, who will prosecute Mr. Muhammad, have said they intend to seek the death penalty for both suspects.
"Even if you don't believe in capital punishment, the legislature has said that capital punishment is available for certain crimes," Mr. Horan said after Mr. Malvo's hearing. "If this one doesn't qualify, none of them should qualify."
A grand jury must indict Mr. Malvo before he can be tried as an adult, and Mr. Horan said he would wait until then to announce whether he'll seek the death penalty.
Both Mr. Ebert and Mr. Horan said they were confident in their cases against the sniper suspects, but Mr. Ebert stressed that "a case like this takes a lot of preparation." He said his team of prosecutors is "ready to go now, but it will probably be a year before we actually go to trial."
Yesterday's hearing was the first time Mr. Malvo has appeared in open court since his arrest.
Federal authorities and prosecutors have not mentioned Mr. Malvo by name but have said a "juvenile" will face capital murder charges in the Oct. 14 shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside the Home Depot in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County. Mrs. Franklin, 47, was killed instantly when a sniper gunned her down at night as she loaded packages into her car in the store's crowded parking lot. She was the ninth person killed in the sniper attacks.
Wearing a dark green jumpsuit, his hands cuffed, Mr. Malvo remained expressionless during the half-hour detention hearing in Fairfax County juvenile court. He said "yes, sir" when Judge Maxfield asked whether he understood his rights.
A court-appointed attorney, Michael S. Arif, and a court-appointed guardian, Todd Petit, appeared with Mr. Malvo. Guardians are typically appointed to look after a child's best interests when parents cannot be located. Mr. Horan said prosecutors are attempting to find Mr. Malvo's mother. Her last known address is in Florida, but they believe she is in Washington state. Thus far, they have had no luck in finding her.
Mr. Arif said he plans to advise Mr. Malvo to plead not guilty and is considering filing a motion for a change of venue. He said Mr. Malvo's fingerprints on the rifle "don't mean anything realistically."
Mr. Arif said he was concerned to hear that Mr. Malvo was interrogated for almost eight hours Thursday night.
"I'm not at all comfortable with a 17-year-old being in police custody for that long without representation," Mr. Arif said, adding that he is likely to ask a judge to disallow any incriminating statements Mr. Malvo might have made.


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