- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — The judge in the Lee Boyd Malvo sniper trial yesterday barred defense attorneys from introducing a letter their client had written that witnesses described as a cry for help to escape the control of John Allen Muhammad before last year’s sniper attacks.

Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush sustained a prosecution objection that the letter was hearsay evidence and thus inadmissible.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. argued that the letter was no different from the spoken words of the sniper suspect, which under the rules of evidence can be allowed only if the defendant testifies to them.

Defense attorneys said later they are considering other strategies to introduce the letter, but that the ruling alone would not make or break their case. They also said the letter’s admissibility would not be the deciding factor in whether Mr. Malvo testifies.

A decision on whether to put Mr. Malvo, 18, on the witness stand is expected Monday.

Still, the judge’s decision seemed to rattle the defense.

“It was disturbing,” said Michael S. Arif, a lead attorney on the Malvo defense team. “It was not a ruling that we anticipated.”

Judge Roush also sustained repeated objections by the prosecution that stopped defense witnesses from testifying about the content of the letter. The judge allowed witnesses to testify only about their reactions to the letter.

“I felt he was crying out for help,” said Muhammad’s sister-in-law, Shelia Anne Tezano, who received the letter after Muhammad and the defendant visited her family in Baton Rouge, La., in the summer of 2002. “I felt that in my heart, and that is the truth.”

Mr. Malvo wrote the letter to Muhammad’s niece, LaToria Williams, after spending a few days in Baton Rouge just months before the beginning of the October 2002 sniper attacks in the Washington area that left 10 dead and three wounded.

Muhammad, 42, was convicted last month in the sniper shootings.

In the letter, Mr. Malvo purportedly expresses fear that he would have to sacrifice himself for Muhammad, whom Mr. Malvo considered his surrogate father and his leader.

Arguing against the prosecution’s objection, Mr. Arif said the letter demonstrated the defendant’s state of mind just prior to the sniper attacks and supports the insanity defense that Mr. Malvo had been “taken over by John Muhammad.”

Mr. Malvo’s attorneys are trying to convince the jury that their client is not guilty by reason of insanity, saying he was indoctrinated into Muhammad’s “extreme brand of Islam” and was under his complete control when he took part in the assassination-style slayings.

Witness Earl Lee Dancy Jr. described Mr. Malvo yesterday as somebody who held a grudge against American society.

“He was angry about it,” said Mr. Dancy, a friend of Muhammad’s who spent extended time with Mr. Malvo in the two years preceding the sniper attacks. “He didn’t like white people.”

Though the sniper victims included blacks, whites, Hispanics and an Indian man, Mr. Malvo’s attorneys say Muhammad convinced their client that the sniper attacks were part of a social war and brainwashed him to serve as a child soldier in the conflict.

Mr. Dancy also testified that Muhammad admired the terrorists who crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“He told me, ‘Wasn’t that smart?’” Mr. Dancy said. “It made me mad. … He actually acted very excited.”

Mr. Dancy also said he twice accompanied Muhammad and Mr. Malvo to a gun range where Muhammad instructed the defendant on shooting a rifle. On cross-examination, Mr. Dancy said Muhammad was a poor shot and that Mr. Malvo appeared to be the superior marksman.

Mr. Dancy also said he saw Muhammad and Mr. Malvo working closely together while playing video and computer games that simulated commando-style warfare.

The defense plans to present testimony by mental health professionals, perhaps as soon as today , that Muhammad used the games as training tools to desensitize Mr. Malvo to killing people.

The defense is expected to call a mental health professional tomorrow who will testify about the use of the movie “The Matrix” to reportedly brainwash Mr. Malvo.

Mr. Dancy’s wife, Maria, testified that the teenager was rude and accused her of picking on him because he was black. Mrs. Dancy, who is Hispanic, said Mr. Malvo would take offense to doing such chores as taking out the garbage.

Mr. Malvo faces the death penalty on two counts of capital murder in the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Deport store in Falls Church. One count is under Virginia’s new antiterrorism law, the other under a serial-killer law. He also is charged with using a firearm in commission of a felony.

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

As in the Muhammad trial, the prosecutors in Mr. Malvo’s trial have linked the defendant to multiple sniper attacks to win a conviction on the terrorism and serial-killer charges.

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