- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Prosecutors yesterday detailed how a sniper tried to extort $10 million from the government by leaving a note at the 12th of last October’s 13 shootings in the Washington area and later calling authorities, who tried tracing the phone calls but ended up arresting the wrong men.

They also showed the jury in the John Allen Muhammad sniper trial a fuzzy videotape they said showed the suspect inside an Ashland, Va., store at 4:01 p.m. on Oct. 19, 2002, a few hours before Jeffrey Hopper was shot in the abdomen after eating dinner at a nearby steakhouse. Mr. Hopper survived the 7:59 p.m. shooting.

Investigators said they went to the Big Lots store four days after the shooting and found the same pink paper and Halloween-style Ziploc bags that the sniper had used for the note.

Defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro at first objected to the videotape, saying the defense had not agreed to stipulate it was recorded on the day the prosecution asserted. But after he and fellow defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun talked with Mr. Muhammad, 42, they withdrew their objection.

Court adjourned after half a day, and Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. sent the jury home and told them to have a “pleasant Halloween.”

“It’s been a long week,” Judge Millette said.

The day’s proceedings, which focused on forensics and details of evidence gathering, gave jurors a break from the grisly photos of shooting victims and emotional testimony of witnesses and victims that had taken up much of the court proceedings this week.

For much of the morning, prosecutors presented proof that evidence from the Ashland shooting — a note reading “For you mr. Police: Call me God,” a rifle shell casing and a candy wrapper — was handled properly by authorities.

The prosecution has not had to do that with most of the evidence because defense attorneys have stipulated that the evidence is admissible.

“By their own estimation, we have saved the prosecution two weeks of trial time,” Mr. Shapiro said in court.

But he and Mr. Greenspun forced the prosecution to prove the chain of custody from the crime scene to the courtroom for the Ashland evidence. “It was just too important. We wanted to take them through it,” Mr. Shapiro said afterward.

The bullet cartridge was from a .223-caliber rifle like the Bushmaster found in Mr. Muhammad’s blue Chevy Caprice when he and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested near Frederick, Md., on Oct. 24 last year. The candy wrapper was found to have Mr. Malvo’s fingerprints on it.

The note used the same code found on a tarot card at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md., on Oct. 7 last year, when 13-year-old Iran Brown was wounded. The handwriting on the note matches that on the card.

The note’s author demanded that $10 million be deposited in a stolen credit-card account from which unlimited withdrawals could be made. The note warned police that if they did not comply by Monday, Oct. 21, by 9 a.m., then “prepare you body bags.”

“Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time,” the note reads in a postscript.

Mr. Muhammad is being tried for murder in the Oct. 9, 2002, shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station.

Mr. Malvo goes on trial Nov. 10 in neighboring Chesapeake for the Oct. 14, 2002, slaying of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot.

They are accused of committing last October’s 13 sniper shootings in the Washington area, 10 of which were fatal. They have been linked to nine other shootings in five other states.

In Fairfax County yesterday, defense attorneys for the younger sniper suspect objected to four grisly crime-scene and autopsy photos, including two from the Franklin case, during a hearing.

Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Roush overruled the defense except for one photo of another of the victims, Kenneth Bridges, who was killed at a Spotsylvania County gas station three days before Mrs. Franklin.

Judge Roush also turned down defense efforts to avoid bringing in witnesses from as far away as the Caribbean to authenticate various documents.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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