- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Criminal charges brought by the Justice Department against John Allen Muhammad yesterday could put the sniper suspect on death row in the 23-day killing rampage that instilled fear throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District.
A 20-count criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt said Mr. Muhammad, 41, used a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, causing the death of six persons in Maryland and one in the District.
The complaint includes the wounding of two in Virginia and one in Maryland but not the three Virginia slayings attributed to the sniper. It also accuses Mr. Muhammad, under the Hobbs Act, of using violence in an attempt to extort $10 million from authorities in exchange for a promise to end the killings.
The charges, which involve a killing in the commission of a federal crime, carry the death penalty.
The complaint did not name John Lee Malvo, the 17-year-old Jamaican accused of being Mr. Muhammad's accomplice, because he is a juvenile. Mr. Malvo can be charged with a capital offense, although he cannot be executed under federal law.
Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were arrested Thursday morning as they slept in their car at a rest stop in Frederick County, Md. A .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle found in the vehicle was matched through ballistics tests to eight of the sniper killings.
During a 15-minute hearing yesterday at the federal courthouse, Mr. Muhammad led into the courtroom in a maroon prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed behind his back was read his rights by U.S. Magistrate Charles Day, who also summarized the government's case against him.
Mr. Muhammad replied "yes, sir," when the judge asked whether he understood the charges. A detention hearing was scheduled for Tuesday.
Outside the courtroom, Mr. Muhammad's court-appointed attorney, Jim Wyda, asked the public to respect the legal process in light of the amount of attention the sniper shootings had received. He said the amount of emotion and passion in the case "breeds the chance for error and mistake."
Mr. Wyda described Mr. Muhammad as a 41-year-old father and a former soldier who was honorably discharged from the military after serving in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
"He has never been convicted of another crime at any time, anywhere," Mr. Wyda said. "Now, today, he stands accused of an incomprehensible crime, one that has had a profound impact on our community, and has destroyed the lives of good people and innocent families.
"Mr. Muhammad and his lawyers still trust this system of justice. Please let it work," he said.
In announcing the charges, Attorney General John Ashcroft described the shootings that claimed 10 lives and seriously wounded three persons as "atrocities" and said it was important to have available the "very most serious penalties."
"I believe the ultimate sanction ought to be available here," Mr. Ashcroft said in a reference to the federal death penalty. "The filing of this federal complaint gives us the opportunity to assemble additional facts and evidence upon which to make a considered judgment."
Mr. Ashcroft said federal authorities "respected the need" for other jurisdictions to file charges in the case to "preserve their opportunity to defend the rights of their citizens by prosecuting," but he hoped similar respect would be shown pending a final decision on who will get the case first.
"We would like the same kind of cooperation to characterize a decision about ultimately the prosecution, and we would hope that the kind of success that attended the investigation in that cooperation would also attend the prosecution," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft said a decision had not been made on who would prosecute the case first. No charges were filed in the three Virginia killings because of a double-jeopardy law unique to that state.
Murder charges have been filed against Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo in Prince William, Hanover and Spotsylvania counties in Virginia, and in Montgomery County in Maryland.
An FBI affidavit filed in the case described a windfall of evidence located by investigators, mostly in Mr. Muhammad's car.
The evidence included a tarot card with a handwritten note found at the site of the Oct. 7 shooting of a 13-year-old boy outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie and a second note, demanding a $10 million payment, found outside a Ponderosa steakhouse after the Oct. 19 shooting of a 37-year-old man in Ashland, Va.
The affidavit, written by FBI Agent Christopher R. Braga, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agent Scott E. Riordan, said tests at the U.S. Secret Service laboratory found that both documents were "probably written by one and the same person ."
Investigators also found in Mr. Muhammad's 1990 Chevrolet Caprice a Bushmaster model XM15-E2S .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle behind the rear seat and a brown cotton glove matching a glove found at the scene of the Oct. 22 killing of Montgomery County bus driver Conrad E. Johnson in Aspen Hill.
The glove, according to the affidavit, was found "protruding from a hole in the trunk" after Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were arrested. Investigators said they believe that the 3-inch hole was used as a "gun port" through which the sniper fired undetected at several of his victims.
Other items found were a Sony laptop computer, bolt cutters, a green military pack containing a global-positioning system, a pair of two-way radios, shooting mittens, a road atlas, two boxes of ammunition and a wallet containing several driver's licenses bearing Mr. Muhammad's likeness but different names.
According to the affidavit, a person who knew the two suspects in Tacoma, Wash., told investigators that Mr. Muhammad frequently referred to his teenage companion as "the Sniper." The unidentified person also said that during the past six months he had seen Mr. Muhammad in possession of a rifle similar to the .223-caliber one found in the Caprice.
The affidavit said Mr. Muhammad told him that he was taking the rifle to a firing range, where he could "zero it," meaning calibrate the weapon's gun sight to ensure accuracy.
Meanwhile, police in Tacoma said they had linked Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo to the February shooting death of a 21-year-old woman whose aunt once worked for Mr. Muhammad's auto-repair business. Police also identified the pair as suspects in a May shooting at a Tacoma synagogue in which no one was injured.
In Montgomery, Ala., prosecutors filed capital murder charges against the pair last week for a shooting during a liquor store robbery Sept. 21. It was that shooting that led the sniper task force to the pair after one of the suspects boasted about the crime in a telephone call to police.
Alabama authorities lifted Mr. Malvo's fingerprint from a gun magazine found in a parking lot outside the liquor store where a clerk, Claudine Lee Parker, 52, was killed by one of two robbers. In addition to the fingerprint, authorities said, a Montgomery, Ala., police officer who chased the shooter and got within two feet of the man before he lost him identified Mr. Muhammad in a photo lineup.
Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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