- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) Authorities in Alabama are convinced that Washington-area sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad was the gunman in a fatal shooting outside a liquor store last month and will seek the death penalty, police said yesterday.

The officer who saw the shooting suspect Sept. 21 "made no hesitation whatsoever" when presented with a photo of Mr. Muhammad as part of a photo lineup Thursday, Chief John Wilson said.

"He actually shuddered when he saw the picture and said, 'That's the man I saw,'" Chief Wilson said. "We intend to aggressively pursue the death penalty in our case."

Chief Wilson said Mr. Muhammad, 41, is accused of killing the clerk outside the store as it closed Sept. 21, and John Lee Malvo, 17, is being charged as an accomplice. The two were arrested Thursday in Maryland as suspects in the sniper slayings.

The death penalty will be sought against both Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo under the charges being filed yesterday, Chief Wilson said.

"We want to send a very strong message to not only this community and this state, but the country that this is not the kind of conduct, this is not what we expect of civilized society," Chief Wilson said. "We're going to make an example of somebody."

Dwight Johnson, an officer who heard gunshots that night, chased a man fleeing the liquor-store shootings, at one point coming within a couple of feet of him, and helped provide a composite sketch, authorities had said.

Police had earlier indicated they thought Mr. Malvo whose fingerprint they said was found at the scene was the man in the sketch. But Chief Wilson said Mr. Muhammad is now believed to be the man who was chased by Officer Johnson.

He said Officer Johnson had not been allowed to see any of the news media accounts and photographs of Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo before being asked to pick out the man he saw.

Another witness tentatively identified Mr. Malvo as being at a gas station near the liquor store, Chief Wilson said, and a third witness may have seen at least one of the men.

Officer Johnson was parked across the street from the store and heard the gunshots that killed Claudine Parker, 52, and wounded co-worker Kellie Adams, 24, as they were locking up, Chief Wilson said. But the gunman managed to outrun the officer.

Chief Wilson didn't fault Officer Johnson, who he said considered shooting the gunman but decided against it.

"He's looking at a fleeing suspect who's not a threat to him, and he was not fully aware of what had transpired" at the shooting scene behind him, Chief Wilson said Thursday night. "The officer feels just as bad about not catching the suspect for the crime here as anything else."

As evidence linking the crimes emerged, police recounted how Officer Johnson was only a couple of feet away from the gunman, but couldn't capture him.

Miss Adams, still recovering Thursday from her injuries, said she never lost consciousness after being shot and remembers seeing a slender black man standing over her, but that she only saw him from the waist down.

"He must have been an excellent marksman because he was able to turn around and shoot Claudine in the back," Miss Adams said.

Mayor Bobby Bright said Mr. Malvo's fingerprint was found on a weapons publication in a parking lot outside the liquor store.

A member of Miss Parker's family said officers could have done more to stop the killer, possibly avoiding the sniper shootings that followed. "I wonder why they didn't shoot him in the foot or something," said sister-in-law Odean Lee of Seattle.

After Mr. Malvo's fingerprint was connected to the Montgomery killing, authorities traced Mr. Malvo to a home in Tacoma, Wash., where Mr. Muhammad is believed to have once lived and which authorities searched Wednesday.

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