- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo tried to get out of his “situation” a few months before last year’s sniper attacks in the Washington area, the first ex-wife of convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad testified yesterday.

Carol Williams of Baton Rouge, La., said the teenage suspect wrote a letter last summer to her niece in which he sought “help to get of the situation he was in.” At that time, Mr. Malvo was traveling across the country with Muhammad, who now faces the death penalty for his role in the sniper rampage.

It was not clear which situation the defendant was referring to in his letter, which was not read to the jury yesterday.

Craig S. Cooley, a lead attorney on Mr. Malvo’s defense team, has said the letter shows that his client was trying to escape Muhammad’s control. Mr. Cooley is expected to present the letter in the Malvo capital-murder trial today, but the prosecution likely will move to suppress the evidence.

Meanwhile, Muhammad’s son, Lindbergh Allen Williams, testified that his father has mind-control power and once had brainwashed him to hate his mother, Carol Williams.

“He was a manipulator,” said Mr. Williams, 21. “If you talk to him too long, he’ll get inside your head.”

Mr. Williams said Muhammad had a “big heart” and “loved kids” but also knew how to exploit people’s weaknesses and would bend people to his will.

He said his father turned him against his mother when he was 11, saying Muhammad falsely had convinced him that she was abusive.

As he left the witness stand, Mr. Williams and Mr. Malvo, 18, turned to look at each other. Mr. Williams frowned as he nodded to the defendant.

A broad smile broke across the face of the sniper suspect, who wore white khaki pants, a blue crew-neck sweater and light-blue dress shirt.

Yesterday’s testimony bolstered the defense’s case that the defendant should be found not guilty of gunning down Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Falls Church Home Depot last year because he was being controlled by Muhammad.

Mounting an insanity defense, Mr. Malvo’s attorneys say Muhammad, 42, indoctrinated the teenager into an “extreme brand of Islam” and “brainwashed” him to carry out the sniper attacks that left 10 dead and three wounded in the Washington area.

Muhammad and his one-time companion also are accused of nine other shootings in five states last year.

Yesterday, the Rev. Al Archer, director of the Lighthouse Mission homeless shelter in Bellingham, Wash., testified that the teenager appeared to be closely controlled by Muhammad when they lived in the shelter during winter 2001. Mr. Archer said Mr. Malvo seemed intent on pleasing his mentor.

“I saw John as the trainer and Lee as being the trainee,” he said.

The teenage defendant been on trial since Nov. 10 on two counts of capital murder in Mrs. Franklin’s Oct. 14, 2002, death — one under Virginia’s new antiterrorism law, the other under a serial-killer law. He also is charged with illegal use of a firearm.

A Virginia Beach jury last week recommended the death penalty for Muhammad after convicting him of identical murder and gun charges for the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. He also was convicted of conspiracy.

Since Mr. Malvo’s attorneys began presenting their case last week, their witnesses have portrayed the defendant as an abused and abandoned boy who was ripe for brainwashing by a charismatic father figure.

“He’s the kind of person who had to be in charge of everything,” Mrs. Williams said of her ex-husband, whom she also described as a “loving person, a good father.”

Muhammad and Mr. Malvo visited her in Baton Rouge in summer 2002, she said. The pair ate only crackers and declined all other food they were offered, she testified.

Mrs. Williams said she discussed the teenager’s letter with relatives to see whether they could help him, but Muhammad and Mr. Malvo had left Baton Rouge by then.

Most of the witnesses yesterday said Muhammad appeared to dominate Mr. Malvo and keep him from interacting with other people.

Jerry C. Page, a former resident manager at Lighthouse Mission, said he detected something sad in the teenager’s demeanor.

“He seemed kind of distant and troubled,” Mr. Page said. “He seemed like he felt guilty about something.”

In cross-examination by Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., Mr. Page said Mr. Malvo impressed him as a bright teenager who was well-spoken and had a good vocabulary.

Mr. Horan often questioned the defense witnesses about the teenager’s sharp intellect and prodded the witnesses to say that the defendant didn’t seemed to have an obvious mental disorder.

James T. Mitton, a Lighthouse Mission worker, testified that the sniper suspect and Muhammad had a very close relationship and kept to themselves while staying at the mission.

“Lee appeared to be unwilling to talk to anyone without John [Muhammad] present,” Mr. Mitton said.

Lighthouse Mission resident manager Rory R. Rueblin testified that on one occasion Muhammad gave Mr. Malvo a “stern look” and the teenager broke off a conversation with another resident.

Ronald Lee Todd, the chaplain at Lighthouse Mission, said Mr. Malvo and Muhammad seemed to have a co-dependant relationship in which the teenager was the “compliant child.”

“It was that look that would keep him at [Muhammads] side, close, unusually close,” Mr. Todd said. “Whenever Lee [Malvo] was around Muhammad, he would just tighten up and get real quiet.”

Mr. Horan succeeded in keeping the jury from hearing testimony by Mr. Todd that the defendant expressed a fear of Muhammad’s professed Islamic mission.

With the jury out of the courtroom, Mr. Todd recalled Mr. Malvo’s words: “My leader said to me we wanted to take over America. When he told me that, I felt I didn’t want to be involved.”

Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush sustained Mr. Horan’s objection that the testimony was hearsay.

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