- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Prosecutors yesterday rested their case against sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad, acknowledging after three weeks of testimony from 136 witnesses that they could not prove he shot anyone but saying he is responsible for the shootings.

“It’s hard to imagine any more circumstances that could point more unerringly to the defendant being a perpetrator of the murder of Dean Meyers and many of those others,” Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said, referring to the 13 shootings in the Washington area that left 10 dead.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case by calling final witnesses, each of whom described the fear that the shootings provoked in October 2002.

Edward A. Clarke, director of security for Montgomery County Public Schools, recounted in detail how the attacks prompted a countywide school lockdown, called Code Blue, for the first time. Attendance was down to less than 10 percent at some schools before the suspects were captured, he said.

Mr. Clarke’s testimony was meant to bolster prosecutors’ contention that the sniper shootings were a form of terrorism, the basis for one of the capital-murder charges against Mr. Muhammad, 42, and the second suspect, Lee Boyd Malvo, 18. Mr. Malvo’s trial began yesterday a few miles away in Chesapeake.

“You had to see it to understand the effect it had on the students, the parents and the staff,” Mr. Clarke told jurors. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

School administrators locked doors and covered windows with paper or blinds. Parents replaced crossing guards. FBI helicopters swarmed overhead. Outdoor and extracurricular activities were canceled. Overwhelmed police officials wore bulletproof vests at crime scenes.

“The community was scared. Students were scared. Parents were scared. Staff were scared,” said Don Mercer, director of risk management and safety for Prince William County Public Schools.

Frederick Ellis, director of safety and security for Fairfax County Public Schools, told jurors about a close call for a group of students Oct. 19, the same day that Jeffrey Hopper of Melbourne, Fla., was shot and wounded outside a Ponderosa Steakhouse in Ashland, Va.

“A busload of football players, just two hours prior to the shooting, stopped at the Ponderosa,” Mr. Ellis testified.

The shootings also kept shoppers and tourists at home.

George Mason University professor Steven Fuller testified that retail sales dropped in the region by about $35 million, amounting to a loss of $55 million in the local economy.

The prosecution’s last witness, Sgt. Roger Thomson of the Montgomery County Police Homicide and Sex Section, identified, one by one, the name of each shooting victim and the location and date.

Sgt. Thomson, a member of the Sniper Task Force that investigated the shootings, told jurors he went to the rest stop near Frederick, Md., where the suspects were arrested Oct. 24, 2002. He saw Mr. Muhammad in handcuffs, lying on the pavement.

“Since that day, has there been another sniper shooting?” Mr. Ebert asked Sgt. Thomson, to the objection of defense attorneys.

“No sir, nothing like this,” Sgt. Thomson responded.

Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo have been linked to the 13 sniper shootings that left 10 dead and three wounded in the Washington area. The suspects also have been linked to nine other shootings in five states.

Mr. Muhammad is on trial in the Oct. 9 slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. He is charged with one count of capital murder in the deaths of two or more persons in three years and another count under Virginia’s new antiterrorism statute. He also is charged with conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm.

Mr. Malvo is charged in the Oct. 14 slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, in a parking lot outside a Home Depot in Falls Church.

After jurors were excused for the day, defense attorneys asked Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. to dismiss the charges against Mr. Muhammad. They argued that the prosecution didn’t provide enough evidence to prove their charges.

Defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun told Judge Millette that none of the prosecution’s witnesses who had contact with Mr. Muhammad or Mr. Malvo could connect them to the shootings.

“Now we know what the evidence is, there is no inference, there is no evidence, that Mr. Muhammad is the shooter, the person who pulled the trigger that killed Mr. Meyers on Oct. 9, 2002,” Mr. Greenspun argued. “There is no evidence, zero evidence, where the shot [that killed Mr. Meyers] came from. There is no evidence that it was Mr. Muhammad, Mr. Malvo or some other person who fired the shot.”

Mr. Greenspun argued that Virginia law requires that Mr. Muhammad must have been the triggerman and must have fired the fatal shot to be convicted of capital murder.

Mr. Ebert told the judge that there is no evidence that Mr. Muhammad shot anyone. But, Mr. Ebert said, “The law is clear that two people can act together” in committing capital murder.

“If the jury doesn’t believe that he wasn’t an actual participant, they don’t have to convict him,” Mr. Ebert argued, adding that the evidence of Mr. Muhammad’s involvement is overwhelming.

Mr. Ebert cited the circumstantial evidence that he said proves the two suspects acted as a team to carry out the shootings.

Police found in the suspects’ blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice a high-powered Bushmaster rifle, which ballistics tests linked to at least 11 of the area shootings. The Caprice had a specially rigged back seat allowing a person to climb into the trunk, where a small hole was cut out that prosecutors say the suspects used in firing some of their shots. Also found in the Caprice was a shooting victim’s computer, which contained “maps of the dastardly deeds they have done.”

Mr. Ebert quoted a witness who told the jury that Mr. Muhammad wanted to build a silencer and remarked to the witness, “Imagine the damage you could do if you could shoot with a silencer.”

“We can’t say who the triggerman is. We can say there was joint participation,” Mr. Ebert argued.

Sgt. Maj. Mark Spicer, the prosecution’s first witness, has extensive experience as a British sniper. He testified that successful sniper operations require at least two participants.

“It takes two to tango, so to speak, in this type of operation,” Mr. Ebert argued.

Prince William County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett agreed. “Mr. Muhammad is in one of two roles. He is the shooter … or he is the guider. He can’t escape his liability under the statute.”

In a separate motion, Mr. Greenspun unsuccessfully asked Judge Millette to strike Mr. Spicer’s testimony from the record.

Mr. Greenspun argued that the terrorism charge should be dropped because prosecutors, in addition to not proving that Mr. Muhammad fired a shot, never showed the jury that Mr. Muhammad directed or ordered Mr. Malvo to carry out any shootings. The terrorism statute is aimed at “evil masterminds” who plan or direct attacks.

Mr. Ebert pointed to several witnesses who testified that the two suspects had a father-son relationship, in which the younger man obeyed the older.

“It appeared to me that Mr. Muhammad had a very strong influence,” the Rev. Albert Archer, director of a homeless shelter in Bellingham, Wash., where the two suspects stayed in the fall of 2001, told jurors Friday.

It is the prosecution’s theory — and Mr. Malvo’s defense — that Mr. Muhammad controlled the fatherless young man and used him to carry out the shootings. Police found on an electronic organizer in the Caprice a note titled “the truth of the Muhammad assassinations, not the Malvo assassinations.”

“Common sense shows that a 17-year-old boy did not recruit this man to do his dirty work,” Mr. Ebert told the judge.

Judge Millette is expected to rule on their motions tomorrow morning, when court resumes after the Veterans Day holiday.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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