- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — Three years before he carried out the sniper shootings that killed 10 persons, wounded three and sparked a wave of terror through the Washington area, convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad stood in his garage and told his estranged wife that he would destroy her to gain back the couple’s three children.

“Just know this — you have become my enemy, and as my enemy, I will kill you,” Muhammad said, according to Mildred Muhammad, now his ex-wife, who testified for nearly three hours yesterday during the sentencing phase of her ex-husband’s capital-murder trial, now in its fifth week.

Mrs. Muhammad filed for divorce in 1999, setting off a spiral of anger and depression for the 42-year-old Army veteran and car mechanic — a man who once had been “always happy,” according to a defense witness.

In March 2000, Muhammad disappeared with his children for 18 months, taking them to Antigua and then back to Bellingham, Wash. It was not until authorities located him there and held a Sept. 4, 2001, custody hearing that Mrs. Muhammad was reunited with her children.

She told the jury that her ex-husband stormed out of that hearing and that when she saw him coming toward her, she knew “he was coming to get me” and ran down the hall. Her attorney counseled that, “based on John’s behavior, I needed to leave tonight, for fear that he may find me and kill me,” she said. She brought the children back to Clinton, Md., that night.

Prince William Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. cautioned the jury not to consider the lawyer’s statement as truth, but as motive for Mrs. Muhammad’s quick departure.

Mrs. Muhammad had not seen her ex-husband since that day, though she has said in her divorce papers and to reporters that she thought the sniper shootings were a cover for Muhammad to kill her and take her children without arousing suspicion. Judge Millette had forbidden prosecutors from making that argument, saying they lacked evidence.

Mrs. Muhammad told the jury that in 1993, after Muhammad returned from serving as a combat engineer in the Gulf war, where he was wounded, he was “very angry.” Once a week for two months, in the middle of the night, Muhammad and a friend rode bicycles to nearby Fort Lewis, she said, in an attempt to steal plastic explosives.

He was unsuccessful, Mrs. Muhammad said, and she didn’t probe into the matter. “I felt that the less I knew, the better,” she said.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun asked Mrs. Muhammad to read letters to their father written last week by the children — John Jr., 13, Salena, 11, and Taalibah, 10. The toughest question Muhammad will ever face might have come from Taalibah.

“Why did you do all those shooting?” she asked in her letter. Muhammad was found guilty of capital murder on Monday for the Oct. 9, 2002, fatal shooting of a Gaithersburg man and at least one other victim and for masterminding the sniper shootings that authorities say he carried out with Lee Boyd Malvo, 18.

“I miss you soooooooo-ooooooooooooooooo much. And can I ask you some questions?” wrote Taalibah. She had a list of questions, including, “And did you tell Lee [Boyd Malvo] to say ‘Call me God?’,” “And did you say my name on T.V.?” and, “Did you do most of the shooting?”

She then ended the letter by saying, “And I love you Daddy and I always will. NO MATTER WHAT!!!!!”

But Mrs. Muhammad told the jury through tears — her only tears of the long testimony — that Taalibah recently told her she did not want her father to get out of jail.

“Mommy, if Daddy gets out then that means he will kill you, and I don’t want to live the rest of my life without my Mommy,” Taalibah said, according to Mrs. Muhammad.

John Jr. told his father he is playing football, taking part in a school play and weightlifting. He wrote, “Wish you were here with me. … You were right I would have more female friends than male friends. Dad I love you so much and nothing will ever change that ever.”

Judge Millette told prosecutors they could not tell jurors that John Jr. told Mrs. Muhammad, “Mom, if Dad take you out, then I’m going to take him out.”

Muhammad sat statuelike through most of his ex-wife’s testimony and showed little emotion when his children’s letters were read.

The letters were read as prosecutors concluded their case against Muhammad during the sentencing phase, in which jurors will decide whether to sentence the defendant to death or life in prison. The prosecution presented 23 witnesses in about two full days of testimony from Monday to yesterday.

The prosecution’s final three witnesses told the story of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, the Vietnam veteran who survived a Viet Cong sniper’s bullet in 1970 only to die when shot while filling his car with gas in Manassas.

Mr. Meyers’ older brother, Larry, told the jury through tears that Mr. Meyers’ death devastated their close-knit family. Mr. Meyers was the only one to move from southern Pennsylvania, and his dozen or so trips back home each year, for holidays and birthdays, galvanized and delighted his siblings and parents.

Larry Meyers had grown closer with Dean Meyers in the past five years, and the two had taken a trip to a baseball park in a quest to eventually visit all the Major League Baseball ballparks. They went to New York to see the Yankees, who lost.

“He was my brother and, uh, I think he was my best friend,” Larry Meyers said in a choked voice. “I’ll never be over this. I’ll never have full closure. I accept this. I know he won’t be back, but I miss him terribly.”

Defense attorneys presented six witnesses as they began their attempt to convince the jury that Muhammad has “worth and value” and should be spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

An ex-lover of Muhammad’s, a 45-year-old divorced mother of three from Tacoma, Wash., said Muhammad is “a person with so much to give.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better friend in the world,” said Mary Marez, who called Muhammad “the strongest, most gentlest man I’ve ever known.”

When Muhammad lost custody of his children, Ms. Marez said, he “was withdrawn and very quiet. He would sit and just stare out the windows. He just wasn’t himself.”

The defense expects to finish presenting witnesses this morning, Mr. Greenspun said, and closing arguments for sentencing are expected this afternoon. Muhammad’s fate then will rest with the jury. If they cannot reach a decision by Monday afternoon, they will return Dec. 1 to continue deliberations.

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