- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Jurors in the John Allen Muhammad sniper trial will begin deliberations this morning following nearly five hours of closing arguments yesterday that focused on whether the suspect could be found guilty based on circumstantial evidence.

“Folks, there’s no question we got the right people,” said Richard A. Conway, Prince William County assistant commonwealth’s attorney, during a two-hour closing statement. “All this evidence points unerringly to this fella right here.”

Mr. Conway portrayed the defendant as the mastermind of a “diabolical” plot to shoot random persons in October 2002 to terrorize the Washington area and extort $10 million from the government.

Defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun argued in nearly a two-hour statement that prosecutors, lacking concrete evidence of his client’s guilt, have pressured the jury to convict Mr. Muhammad based on “suspicion, speculation and innuendo.”

“Don’t let the prosecution … compel you to make your findings of fact and of evidence based on the result,” Mr. Greenspun said. “There’s a lot of pressure to come to a verdict on this. But the law is that you have to follow the evidence.”

Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert gave an emotional 25-minute rebuttal before the case went to the jury. He said Mr. Muhammad, 42, is “the kind of man who would pat you on the back and cut your throat.” The prosecutor glared at the stone-faced defendant several times, pointing at him frequently.

Meanwhile in nearby Chesapeake, Va., prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Lee Boyd Malvo sniper trial delivered their opening arguments before the trial was recessed until Monday. The delay will allow evidence in the Muhammad trial to be transferred to the Malvo trial.

Mr. Ebert told the Muhammad jury that common sense dictates that the defendant was responsible for the sniper rampage, noting ballistics tests linking him to the rifle used in the shootings and his obvious influence over Mr. Malvo, 18, who was seen by witnesses at the sites of several shootings.

“My granddaddy told me years ago, ‘Use your common sense. There’s nothing worse than an educated fool,’” Mr. Ebert said. Mr. Muhammad “is the actual perpetrator. He is the No. 1 perpetrator from all the evidence you’ve heard.”

At issue is whether the Army veteran ever fired a shot in the shootings. The defense said even if he was involved, no proof exists that he was the triggerman in any shootings and so he cannot be found guilty of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors have argued that Mr. Muhammad’s control over Mr. Malvo made the pair “joint participants” and that both were “immediate perpetrators,” thus eligible for the death penalty.

Prince William Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. agreed with the prosecution Wednesday, when the defense asked him to dismiss the charges.

The jury — which consists of six white women, five white men and one black woman — will begin deliberations at 9 a.m. today. If they do not reach a verdict, they will end deliberations at 1 p.m. and resume Monday.

If the jury returns a guilty verdict today, the sentencing phase to determine whether he receives the death penalty or life in prison will begin no earlier than Monday. The sentencing phase is expected to last at least a week.

“One of the biggest decisions you will make in this case is whether the defendant was the principal in the first degree … the immediate perpetrator,” Mr. Conway told jurors yesterday. “When you have a sniper/spotter killing team in a mobile, urban hide, taking out innocent people as they go about their daily lives, in an effort to inflict terror to extort money from the government, it is nothing short of the immediate perpetrator.

“What they do, they do as one,” he said.

Mr. Greenspun said, “It is the person who has the gun in his or her hand — or the knife or the crushing rock — it is that person who has the immediate ability to stop this from happening. … You can’t just be there. You have to be part of it.”

His closing statement pointed to the lack of evidence that shows Mr. Muhammad close to the shootings and called into question the credibility of some witnesses.

“There is just a gap — more than a gap — a canyon, a lack of evidence about Mr. Muhammad’s involvement,” Mr. Greenspun said.

He said there was no evidence that the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice the suspects were arrested in was custom-fitted with a hole in the trunk and a back seat that could open on a hinge to allow access to the trunk before the Oct. 24, 2002, arrest.

Prosecutors have said some of the sniper shots were fired through the hole in the trunk. “Has anyone ever seen an alteration like that? … A hole that you could crawl into like some kind of vermin?” Mr. Ebert said. “It had to be for just one purpose: to kill people.”

Mr. Greenspun also accused prosecutors of trying to short-circuit the jury’s reason by overloading them with gruesome pictures of shooting victims and emotional testimony from victims’ families.

“The emotional pounding you took doesn’t move you forward as to the decisions you have to make,” Mr. Greenspun said. And he told the jury that all they knew about the relationship between the two suspects was that witnesses said Mr. Malvo was obedient to Mr. Muhammad.

Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo have been linked to the 13 shootings that left 10 dead and three wounded in the Washington area in October 2002, as well as nine other shootings in five states. Mr. Muhammad is charged in the Oct. 9 fatal shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station.

Mr. Malvo is on trial for the Oct. 14 fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot.

Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert yesterday delivered his rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument in the capital murder trial of John Allen Muhammad, one of two suspects in the Washington-area sniper spree. The jury will begin deliberating this morning.

This is the text of Mr. Ebert’s comments to the jury in Virginia Beach.

Ladies and gentlemen, the court has told you — and you know now that we’ve come to know each other pretty well. I’m here on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia; and on their behalf, I want to thank all of you for giving your time and attention. I’ve been in this business more years than I would like to remember, and I guess I’m getting a little long in the tooth. But I have never seen a jury sit for this long and be so attentive and pay attention like you folks have; and I want you to know I certainly appreciate it, and I think I speak for everybody in this courtroom when I say that.

And I guess it’s no secret to you that I’m a country boy. I came out of the country, and I perhaps don’t think like everybody does; but my granddaddy told me years ago, Use your common sense, son. There’s nothing worse than an educated fool. And I ask you to use your common sense in this matter, and I’m not going to spend much of your time. I hope to be maybe fifteen or twenty minutes at the very most. I suspect you’ve heard enough hot air out of the lawyers by now, and it’s time for you folks to get about your duty.

But these folks were a killing team.

Mr. Conway told you from the onset that it took two people, and there’s no question from the evidence that it would take two people. Use your common sense.

Whether or not you have the testimony of Mr. Spicer, look at the back of that car. Anyone who would get in that car and have to shoot out of that little opening would have to have someone else to help. Someone else would have to be able to call the shot, the observer; and as Mr. Spicer put it, they are inseparable. These folks — it’s a big word for me, but were symbiontic.

That means where one organism is dependant on another to exist or to function, and that organism depended on Lee Malvo. Do you believe in using your common sense that Lee Malvo recruited him? A seventeen-year-old boy from Jamaica? No. Your common sense will tell you that a trained veteran, a person whose experience is in the military as well as experienced with cars, mechanics, is the type of person that would be the leader in this killing team. That’s your common sense.

Counsel tells you — and he went through it piece by piece — You can’t believe this. You can’t believe that. Folks, do you think all of these witnesses came in here and lied to you? If you think they lied to you, throw this case out. He tells you that Walter Dandridge — you know, the gentleman who was the firearm expert. He can’t be believed because he said it was not a real — or subjective or maybe it wasn’t subjective. He said to the exclusion of all others that that weapon killed each and every one of those people and shot others to the exclusion of all others. Now, if you don’t believe that — if you don’t believe his testimony, you let him walk out of this door right now; but I suggest to you folks that there can be no question that that’s clear, concrete forensic evidence. And this case is rife with that. There’s never been a case, I would suggest to you, that anyone in this courtroom has seen that had more such evidence.

Incidentally, this weapon was found in the car — which I’m going to address in a few minutes later — in the back seat under that seat that you folks saw, the back seat in which that man was seated at the time of his arrest; and that man was present with Lee Boyd Malvo. I would suggest to you that common sense tells you that he is the agent and he is the principal.

Principals in the first degree have been defined as actual perpetrators. And Mr. Greenspun said, Well, what do you mean by a perpetrator? What does that mean? I think it’s an actual participant.

The dictionary says to perpetrate is to bring about — to bring about or carry out, parentheses, as a crime.

I suggest to you that there could be no doubt that this man brought about a crime one after another.

Let’s look at the type of individual that he is. Controlling. You’ve seen him. You’ve watched his demeanor in this courtroom. He wants to be in control.

You can tell by his demeanor. You can tell from all of the evidence that he was in control. He was the one that Lee Boyd Malvo obeyed. He was the one that everybody said caused that young man to be obedient.

That didn’t justify in any way what Lee Boyd Malvo’s role in this was; but God knows but for that man, he’d still be someplace else, perhaps not here. And God knows he would have never gone to the Washington, D.C., area. He would have never had the weapon, which is number one, in his possession but for that man. And he knows it as well as I know it.

And true, he’s upset about the loss of the custody of his children. How many people have custody battles? I dare say that everyone on this jury knows someone that has. Maybe you even have one yourself.

But people don’t react the way he did. People don’t say, She’s in the D.C. area. All I need to do is pinpoint her whereabouts. And I’d suggest to you a fair inference from this evidence is that that brought this killing team to the metropolitan area of Washington D.C., and you’ve heard scenario after scenario of the total hell that they wreaked upon innocent people. It’s hard to keep a dry eye in a lot of the testimony that you’ve seen; but there could be nothing worse, I would suggest to you. And but for him, we wouldn’t be here today.

He takes a young man from there. It’s about as far away from here as you can get up in the northwestern part of this country; and they go to — a mission is the first that we know about. They go and they train physically. They go the gym almost daily.

He is in the dominant position even there. And, folks, you know — and use your common sense — in wartime the Army brings in young folks. We want young soldiers because they’re the kind of folks that you can mold and train and send into combat, people that don’t really realize the consequences of death or what death means.

There is a young man, I suggest to you, that he molded and made an instrument of death and destruction.

They trained. Snipers have to train. They went to the shooting range time after time to perfect — to make these skills — hone their skills.

He’s good at it, and I suggest to you that his student was good at it. We know from the shots that they took.

Many of them were head shots killing innocent people.

They were small targets. They were targets that were readily available with that weapon and that scope.

And it’s true from the evidence that these folks started out killing to rob. Mr. Conway told you about that. It’s kind of unusual. Most people who come up with a gun and stick it in your face say, Give me your wallet; and if you don’t, maybe they’ll shoot you. Maybe they won’t. But not a word out of Mr. Malvo when he robbed those folks, La Ruffa and Mr. Rashid Muhammad. He kicks him to make sure he’s dead. Rashid doesn’t even move a muscle.

But they got enough money to get what I suggest to you is an urban hide, but we don’t have to call it that. We can call it anything we want to. We can call it an old police car that’s been modified so it can be a killing mechanism. How many people would — well, use your common sense. This man.

Nobody else. Lee Boyd Malvo wasn’t even with him when he went to buy that car, which you’ve seen so much of and you folks looked at it yourself. He went there.

And what does he do? Get in the trunk. And why is he so interested in the trunk? Because he’s got plans for it. And he doesn’t want any other car. Mr. Ukupski told you, I really didn’t want to sell him that car. I was trying to sell him something else. But he wants that car. And I suggest to you that one of the reasons is because it had such a big trunk. It had a trunk that could be modified for his deadly purposes.

And we don’t know from the evidence when they modified it, but I think it’s pretty clear it wasn’t long before it was modified. By the time they got down to Baton Rouge, it was pretty clear — it’s definitely clear that shots came across the street and killed poor Mrs. Ballenger. Malvo is right there as soon as the shots are fired leaning over the body and takes her day planner. Do you recall that? That was found in the car. You’ve got it in evidence. And strangely enough, the months of October and September have been torn out of that day planner. I would suggest to you that’s because she had made some notations on those months, her plans for the future for those coming days; and this man and his accomplice did not want that to be in their possession if and when they were ever apprehended.

Now, he’s nobody’s dummy. Murderers — particularly murderers like this that sneak in the night and hide, they don’t want to be seen. They can’t be seen. They’ll be caught. And so he has developed a device which prevents him from being seen. He can kill from it with very little problem in being detected. A small hole. Mr. Spicer told you when he got in there — Mr. Spicer — I think he said he was 5-foot-10 and weighed 16 stones. Do you remember that? And I still don’t know how big that is; but you saw him, and he’s no little man. But he could get in there and he could see out of there. But he told you there’s a narrow field of vision. And you folks saw it.

And what else did they do to that car? Not only did they darken the windows — you can’t see in — but they sprayed the inside of that trunk. You’ll see it in the picture, and maybe you saw it when you examined the vehicle itself; and that has meaning within military parlance. Mr. Spicer said — when he looked at the car, he said, That’s a trapped shadow.

Within the trunk of a vehicle, you have a trapped shadow when the trunk is shut. And if you open the trunk, you allow light in; and you therefore start to illuminate the inside trunk and lose your trapped shadow. By painting a dark color around the edges of that, not only do you limit the ability to someone seeing inside because you’re assisting in trapping that shadow, you also match the color outside of the car.

Another modification. An automobile mechanic. You paint. You weld. You can do any number of things.

Mr. Holmes — some people have talked a lot about him. He’s another person who wants to help. He wants to help so bad that counsel would have you believe he’s lying. Do you believe that? Would he? Mr. Holmes didn’t want to be here. He did the right thing. He told you that he first had a — the type of weapon that snipers often use — and then he had at least one, two — we don’t know how many Bushmasters; but he had a Bushmaster just like number one. And maybe the stock was different. So what? It’s a Bushmaster. It’s a killing machine. And how many people go around the country carrying a weapon like an assault weapon in a duffle bag in a case wherever they go? He tells Holmes that he’s going to get a special case made for it so he can break it down and be even more able to conceal it.

And then there comes a day when he says, I want to make a suppressor. There’s the drawing.

Holmes identified it as being the true replica of what he made. And not only did he make one, he made several. And what does he say about that — this man, not his accomplice? Can you imagine the damage you could do with a suppressor? We don’t know what people think, but we can sure tell a lot about what they think by what they say and what they do; and we know what he did, and we know what he said.

Let me tell you while I’m on the subject of cars, I think I heard him say that when he looked at it, it took two people — one on each side — to lift it up so that somebody could crawl in the back. And if you’ll remember the last thing that Officer Daigneau did, on one side he picked that up with his hand. Has anybody on this jury ever seen such an alteration? A seat that could flip up? A hole that you can crawl into like some vermin? It had to be for one and one purpose only. So that you could kill people.

And in that trunk there’s a pattern. There’s other forensic evidence. And item after item are things snipers use. Ear plugs. It make sense. If you’re in the trunk of a car and you’re going to shoot a loud weapon, it’s going to hurt your ears. He’s got ear plugs. They’ve got walkie-talkies. If he’s in the trunk and somebody’s in the front spotting for him, he’ll have to be able to communicate if he can’t hear him in person. They’ve got GPSs. They have a computer in their possession. They have any number of things that snipers use. Bungee cords. All these things.

Counsel said that Mr. Spicer came over here and specifically says these things to help the Commonwealth’s case. That’s not the case. You can throw Spicer’s testimony out, but I think it’s helpful to you. It shows you how people operate.

And this was war. In some of these messages they talk about we. You have not — you have not met our demands. That’s two people — two participants at the very least. Your forces have not responded.

Forces, Army. They’re at war. And you’ve cost lives because of your insufficiency — or whatever it was.

You’ve got the exhibit.

Folks, I don’t know. I’m not going to go through all the various scenarios. There’s no question that Dean Meyers was killed. Mr. Greenspun says that this — the witness thought the sound came from maybe towards Shoney’s or maybe over in here. He said it came right over there where that car was where everybody says it was. He knows where it came from.

It’s common sense. If you hear an explosion — if you hear a backfire of a car, probably all of you, Where was that? It was back in there someplace.

Sure, there’s ample evidence. That map was found with his hand — his fingerprints on it. His accomplice’s fingerprints are on it right in that little spot where it’s very likely the shot was fired.

His counsel says, Well, if he would have done that, then he would have gotten out of there. That’s the very same man that eased away from the shooting down in D.C. very quietly, very slowly. He didn’t stop. No lights. He’s not going to make a run for it. The first thing he did and everybody in the world said, Hey, get that car. There’s something funny about it.

It’s going fast. And while I’m thinking about it, that car must have had some kind of eery aura about it.

People’s intuition time after time, you know, something’s not right about that car. People felt that it was the instrument of death that we all know now that it was.

We have Officer Bailey who stopped that car.

Wished he didn’t. Very polite. Every witness says this man is polite to a fault. He’s the kind of man, I would suggest to you, is most dangerous because of that. He’s the kind of man who would pat you on the back and cut your throat. That’s the kind of person that is able to kill time and time again because they belie what’s in their heart. They belie the evil within them. They’re nice to all they meet. We’ve met people like that in everyday life. God, hopefully, those folks aren’t killers. There are folks that are able to put a face up for their own benefit, and this man’s no exception.

We have a reign of terror. We know that no one — when Officer Bailey saw that car, that no one was in the car with him. Where was he? I suggest to you that he was in the trunk. Police officers don’t look in your trunk. There was no reason or suspicion he committed any crime. He’s checking people out. He even let him out. He told a lie then. They directed me off of this highway. And the officer didn’t even think that that wasn’t realistic until later on.

Nobody got directed off that highway. Everything came to a shutdown. They were getting people out off the area, not into the area.

Franklin — Linda Franklin was killed simply because she needed to get some things for her new home.

Some minutes later — or a half an hour later or so a Fairfax — an off duty Fairfax County police officer who had been out having some pizza and a couple of beers sees the car; and it calls her attention. She says, That must be from out of state, which it was. Of course, it was so dark. You couldn’t see in it, but the window was down. Mr. Malvo was driving that car.

She saw no one else. Well, where was he? In the trunk.

It’s a hide — a place to hide, a place from which to kill. This man had a record in the military that Spicer told you about of being able to train people. He knew people. He had recruits under his command. Counsel said, Well, he didn’t put in the military record. They could have put the record in as well if they wanted to see that. He — Spicer read it and told what his analysis of it was.

Folks, he is the actual perpetrator. He is the number one perpetrator from all of the evidence you’ve heard. Sure he had assistance. He needed assistance. And in order to do that, his accomplice became a perpetrator; but there can be no question whatsoever that he is a principal in the first degree, and I suggest to you under the court’s instructions that you have joint participants in this crime.

It may seem silly to you that under our law there are only certain little categories that qualify one for capital punishment, but your elective representatives have made these categories. And it may seem silly that if you kill one person every three years, it’s not a capital offense. So you wait three years and kill the next one. But there’s a reason for that. Multiple killings deserve severe punishment.

That’s why it’s a capital offense; and the evidence — there doesn’t have to be any difference in that than any other except you have to show multiple killings.

And terrorism is something which was an act to prevent what these folks did — trying to extort money, threatening a whole — a whole region.

And counsel tells you that Doctor Fuller just came up here and tried to tell you about the economic impact. If he hadn’t done that, don’t you think he would have been screaming, Where is the evidence of the economic impact of this man’s actions? He tells you, Do not look at the results. Don’t look at what he did.

Why? A man is presumed the intent and natural probable consequences of his act under the law. Excuse me. He can infer that he intends the natural probable consequences under the act under the law. And God knows it was the intentional and willful killing of one person after another not only — not within three years — within a year’s time — within a several month period. And God knows the intent of that man was to terrorize. Your children are not safe. There’s nothing more emotional in American’s society than the subject of young kids — young kids being killed and shot and each one of those folks. And what really tugged at my heart was when Little Iran Brown told his aunt, I love you. Ms. Harper — Mr. Harper told his wife, I love you. We don’t have to have that. This man is guilty, and I ask you to find him so.

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