- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Iran Brown, the youngest sniper victim, yesterday came face to face with the teenage defendant who has said he had wanted to kill Iran and every other victim in last year’s sniper attacks.

Iran, 14, testified that he thought he was going to die when he was shot Oct. 7, 2002, as he was exiting his aunt’s car outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie.

“I heard a big bang and then I fell to the ground, and then I felt burning,” said Iran, pointing to his left chest where a .223-caliber bullet pierced his body.

As his aunt drove him to a nearby emergency care center, he told he loved her, Iran testified. Fairfax County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh asked him why he told his aunt that.

“I thought I was going to die,” said Iran, who was 13 at the time of the shooting.

Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush yesterday allowed Iran to testify from a wooden chair near the prosecution table instead of the witness stand, which is about 10 feet in front of the defense table where the defendant sat.

Mr. Morrogh said Iran would be more comfortable testifying outside the witness box, which is situated directly opposite and in close proximity to the defense table where Mr. Malvo sits.

The defense did not object. The prosecution’s request for the change and the accommodations for Iran were made with the jury out of the courtroom.

Mr. Malvo, 18, is on trial for the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Home Depot store in Falls Church. However, prosecutors have linked him to other sniper shootings in pursuit of a capital murder conviction. He could face the death penalty if convicted of the two capital murder counts, one under Virginia’s new antiterrorism law and the other under a serial-killer law.

A jury in nearby Virginia Beach on Monday convicted fellow sniper suspect, John Allen Muhammad, 42, of capital murder charges for the Oct. 9, 2002, fatal shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at gas station in Manassas.

Iran is the youngest victim of the random sniper attacks in October 2002 that left 10 dead and three wounded in the Washington area. The teenager survived the bullet that tore off half his stomach and part of his liver because his aunt rushed him to a hospital in her car.

“I really couldn’t breath so I rolled down the window to get some air,” said Iran, a thin and lanky boy with cornrows who wore a blue dress shirt and black pants yesterday. “I told her I loved her … because I thought I was going to die.”

As he recalled the day he was shot, Iran did not look directly at Mr. Malvo, who stared in the young victim’s direction. Mr. Malvo, wearing a beige crew-neck sweater and white dress shirt, kept his elbows braced on the defense table and his hands clasped in front of his mouth during Iran’s testimony.

Prosecutors also called to the stand Capt. Joseph Stracke, a shift supervisor at the maximum-security or “Supermax” prison in Baltimore, He told jurors that Mr. Malvo confessed to shooting Mrs. Franklin as well as other crimes while the suspect was in the jail.

“He shot the lady in Home Depot. He blew her head off, he said,” Capt. Stracke testified.

Mr. Malvo told him he shot Mrs. Franklin “because she was standing there, lazy,” Capt. Stracke told jurors.

Capt. Stracke testified that Mr. Malvo told him he shot Iran to upset then-Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose. According to Capt. Stracke, Mr. Malvo said that the day Iran was shot, he initially intended to shoot a busload of children but the buses pulled in the wrong way at the school.

Capt. Stracke also testified that Mr. Malvo told him that Muhammad would give him the go-ahead on a walkie-talkie before a shot, including one time when a police helicopter overhead prevented a shooting of a pregnant woman in a Baltimore cemetery.

Capt. Stracke also said that Mr. Malvo told him he was hiding in a trash container when a Baltimore police officer found Muhammad asleep in his car at a gasoline station the morning after Iran was shot. Mr. Malvo said he had the scope of the rifle trained on the officer’s head and would have shot him if the officer had tried to arrest Muhammad, Capt. Stracke told jurors.

Capt. Stracke also said that the young suspect told him he was prepared to die for his crimes. “Lee didn’t want to sit in prison,” Capt. Stracke testified. “He expected the death penalty.”

On cross-examination, defense attorney Thomas Walsh tried to show that Mr. Malvo may have taken credit for the shootings to appear tough. He asked whether Mr. Malvo sounded like he was bragging.

“Not bragging. Proud,” Capt. Stracke responded.

Mr. Walsh also alluded to Mr. Malvo’s possible fear of homosexual rape in prison if he did not appear tough in the adult jail. “You’ve heard complaints and concerns about sexual assaults?” he asked the captain.

“It could never happen there,” Capt. Stracke responded, adding that the inmates are locked down 23 hours a day, with one inmate to a cell.

Also yesterday, a ballistics expert from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified that the .223-caliber bullets that killed Mrs. Franklin and Mr. Meyers and wounded Iran were fired from the Bushmaster rifle that police found in the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice that Mr. Malvo and Muhammad drove last fall.

Fingerprint analysts testified that Mr. Malvo’s fingerprint and palmprint were found on the Bushmaster and on a bag of Dole Cinnaraisins found at the scene of the Oct. 22, 2002, fatal shooting of Ride On bus driver Conrad E. Johnson, 35, in Aspen Hill.

Prosecutors also presented testimony that it was Mr. Malvo’s voice on a digital audio recorder found in Muhammad’s car. The voice said, “Until then, just follow the body bags,” — the same statement made in a phone call to police demanding a response to the snipers’ ransom notes.

Yesterday afternoon, jurors spent about 25 minutes looking at the Chevrolet Caprice in which Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were arrested. They focused mainly on the trunk of the car, which was being kept at the city jail near the courthouse.

Prosecutors contend the car was used as a killing platform, with a back-seat section that lifted up to allow access to the trunk from inside the car. The trunk has a large notch cut above the license plate, which prosecutors say was used as a shooting port.

Jurors walked around the car once and then a second time after the car doors were opened, according to a pool reporter who went on the field trip.

Defense attorneys asked that Mr. Malvo be allowed to get in the car and lift up the seat, but prosecutors objected. Out of the jury’s presence, two defense attorneys lifted and removed the seat’s backrest, which rests on hooks. Jurors then returned to the courtroom.

After court adjourned last night, defense attorney Craig S. Cooley said the evidence presented this week has been damaging to his client’s case. But he said the defense will not stray from its plan to argue that their client is not guilty by reason of insanity.

“Hope springs eternal,” defense attorney Craig S. Cooley said. “And we expected this to be a difficult week and it certainly has been.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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