- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Prosecutors yesterday played a recording in which Lee Boyd Malvo claims to be the triggerman in each of the Washington area’s 13 sniper shootings last year, saying, “I intended to kill them all.”

In the recording, the teenager tells police detectives that he was “basically” the triggerman during the sniper rampage; that he and accomplice John Allen Muhammad visited each site several times before a shooting; and that the attacks were designed to extort $10 million from the government.

“You know, it is about money,” Mr. Malvo says calmly in the audiotape recording of his Nov. 8, 2002, interrogation by Prince William County police Detective Samuel Walker.

The entire 100-minute recording was played during Detective Walker’s testimony yesterday in Mr. Malvo’s capital murder trial.

In the recording, Mr. Malvo claims responsibility for the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station.

“He came within my zone,” the sniper suspect says about his selection of Mr. Meyers as a target.

When he pulled the trigger, Mr. Meyers “went down. … I just saw the body started falling. I didn’t stay around and watch it go down.”

However, in the recording the teenager gives the wrong size and color of Mr. Meyers’ car and the wrong part of the head where Mr. Meyers was shot — mistakes that defense attorney Craig S. Cooley yesterday highlighted in cross-examination to argue that his client had given a false confession.

During cross-examination of Detective Walker, Mr. Cooley pointed out that his client said Mr. Meyers stood beside a light-colored “family sized” car when he was shot in the right side of the head. But Mr. Meyers was shot in the left side of the head beside a black compact car.

“He was mistaken,” Detective Walker said of the sniper suspect’s account of the shooting.

Mr. Malvo’s attorneys are using a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity. They have said their client likely confessed to the slayings to impress and protect Muhammad, who “brainwashed” the teenager into becoming a murderous automaton.

“We are not suggesting in any form or fashion that Lee was not present [at the shootings],” Mr. Cooley said at a news conference yesterday evening outside the courthouse. “The question is his role.”

Muhammad, 42, was convicted Monday in Virginia Beach on two capital-murder charges in Mr. Meyers’ slaying. The sentencing phase of his trial is under way, and he could be sentenced to death.

Mr. Malvo, 18, faces two murder charges in the Oct. 14, 2002, slaying of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot — one charge under Virginia’s antiterrorism law, the other under the state’s serial-killer law. Like Muhammad, Mr. Malvo is charged with conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm.

Muhammad and the teenager are accused of the sniper shootings in the Washington area, in which 10 persons were killed and three wounded over three weeks in October 2002. The pair also are accused of nine other shootings, five fatal, in five states around the country last year.

Mr. Cooley said he had broken the news to Mr. Malvo about Muhammad’s conviction Monday night. “He’s handling it fine,” he said.

In the recorded confession, Mr. Malvo says Montgomery County was “just perfect” as the starting point for the murder-extortion scheme, which prompted the widow of slain taxi driver Premkumar Walekar to hurry from the courtroom in tears. Mr. Walekar, 54, was one of the early sniper victims, shot Oct. 3, 2002, at an Aspen Hill gas station.

Other family members of victims in the courtroom wiped away tears.

Wearing a gray crew-neck sweater and pale blue dress shirt, Mr. Malvo yesterday sat hunched over the defense table with his head down during much of the audiotape recording.

Mr. Cooley said his client continues to emerge from the “spell” of Muhammad and is coping with the evidence as best he can. “He’s using the mechanisms he has to just make it through each day,” Mr. Cooley said.

He said the defense team, which could begin presenting its case as early as Friday, has not decided whether Mr. Malvo will testify.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. yesterday presented evidence in four killings other than Mrs. Franklin’s to tie the suspect to the string of sniper shootings.

The county prosecutor called to the witness stand a man who saw James L. “Sonny” Buchanan, 39, fatally shot Oct. 3, 2002, as he mowed a lawn at an auto dealership near White Flint Mall. He also called a physician who had tried to help Mr. Walekar as he lay in a puddle of blood at the gas station.

Moreover, an elderly man told the jury of how he saw Sarah Ramos, 34, shot in the head as she sat on a bench outside a post office in Silver Spring. A woman who worked near the scene of the shooting testified that she saw the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice in which Mr. Malvo and Muhammad were sleeping when arrested Oct. 24, 2002, at a highway rest stop in Frederick County, Md.

The husband of Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, took the stand and identified a photograph of his wife’s body after she was shot while vacuuming her van Oct. 3 at a gas station in Kensington.

“Yes, it is my wife,” said Nelson Rivera, choking back tears as the photograph appeared on a large screen opposite the jury box.

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