- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — The man who led police to sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo after spotting their car at a rest stop near Frederick, Md., stayed on the line with 911 dispatchers for nearly three hours, giving them updates until police nabbed the suspects.

Whitney Donahue, a refrigeration mechanic from Greencastle, Pa., spotted the blue Chevrolet Caprice in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2002, and thought he saw two persons inside.

“I read the tag off, and as I read the tag off, I said, ‘Oh man,’” Mr. Donahue told jurors yesterday. “And I pulled into the spot right across from it.”

Mr. Donahue immediately called 911 at 12:47 a.m. and stayed on the line until 3:30 a.m., even though he was worried about getting shot. At one point, the dispatchers asked him to double-check the tags. He enlisted another driver to check them as he drove out.

“I really wasn’t wanting to get shot,” Mr. Donahue testified.

FBI Agent Charles Pierce, who led the team that arrested the suspects, said his team initially waited for signs of movement because they weren’t sure anybody was in the car. Agent Pierce said he went in anyway because the rest area’s perimeter had not been fully secured and Mr. Donahue was in danger.

“In this type of arrest, you’ve obviously got a heightened sense of urgency and concern. You’re pretty keyed up,” Mr. Pierce told jurors. “The safest way to effect the arrest was to take them by surprise.”

About five agents rushed the car from a tree line about 20 yards away, smashed the windows open and arrested the suspects without incident.

The third week of testimony began yesterday in Mr. Muhammad’s trial on charges of fatally shooting Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station on Oct. 9, 2002. He faces one count of capital murder in the killing of two or more persons in three years and another capital murder charge under Virginia’s new antiterrorism law. He also is charged with conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm.

Mr. Malvo goes on trial on Monday in the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, at a Home Depot parking lot in Falls Church. He faces the same charges as Mr. Muhammad.

The two suspects have beenlinked to the 13 sniper shootings that killed 10 persons and wounded three in the Washington area last fall. They also have been linked to nine other shootings in five states.

Yesterday, Montgomery County police forensics specialist David McGill described in detail the items found in the Caprice. One of them was a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle that prosecutors think was used in most of the shootings. The rifle was loaded, and its safety switch was disengaged. The rifle was behind a specially hinged rear seat. Police also found a rifle scope and a spent bullet lodged under insulation.

Police also found a dark glove stuffed into a hole that had been cut in the Caprice’s trunk. Prosecutors think the shooter fired through the hole while lying in the trunk.

Other items included a handwritten note that contained the names of five Baltimore-area schools and scraps of paper with the phone number of the sniper task force written on them. A laptop computer that was stolen from a shooting victim’s car also was recovered from the car.

“The Caprice allowed them with impunity to travel where they wanted, park where they wanted and kill who they wanted,” Prince William County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett had said in opening statements. “It was their hide, their concealment place.”

Prosecutors have said that Mr. Muhammad, 42, and Mr. Malvo, 18, communicated by walkie-talkie when setting up the shots, with the older man playing the role of “observer” who gave the go-ahead. Police found walkie-talkies in the Caprice, Mr. McGill said

Also yesterday, prosecutors presented evidence in the 16th and final shooting —the Oct. 22 fatal shooting of Conrad E. Johnson, 35, outside his Ride-On bus in Aspen Hill.

Mr. Johnson’s wife, Denise, testified that she last saw her husband at 4:45 that morning.

“We exchanged I love yous and goodbyes. I looked out the window. He always said a silent prayer before he left,” she told jurors.

About two hours later, she turned on the television and saw a Ride On bus surrounded with yellow police tape. Her mother-in-law called her with the news.

Police found a third note from the snipers at the Johnson shooting site. The note contained the same code words as two others that expressed impatience and frustration with authorities’ slowness to respond to the snipers’ demands for $10 million. “Your incompetence has cost you another life …,” the note read. “Can you hear us now?! Do not play these childish games with us.”

The snipers left a duffel bag and a dark glove in the woods where that note was found. A matching glove was found in the Caprice.

FBI agent Neil Darnell was one of the officers who dragged the two suspects out of their car that night at the rest stop. He asked Mr. Muhammad to identify himself. Mr. Muhammad identified himself as John Williams, his birth name before he changed it to John Allen Muhammad. A Louisiana birth certificate listing the defendant’s changed name was found in the car.

When Mr. Darnell asked Mr. Muhammad who his companion was, Mr. Muhammad identified Mr. Malvo as his son. Mr. Muhammad lost his three children in a custody battle with his ex-wife, Mildred.

Mr. Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, was born and raised in Antigua and Jamaica.

Aware of Mr. Muhammad’s military experience as an engineer in the Army, police checked for booby traps or bombs before turning the car over to forensics specialists.

Other items found in the car were a green military bag with personal items, a global positioning system device, a rifle magazine and a black duffel bag that had been purchased Oct. 23, the day after a duffel bag was left at the scene of Mr. Johnson’s shooting.

Police also found a phone card, a Washington state driver’s license for Mr. Muhammad, an electronic organizer, a digital voice recorder, ear plugs, plastic bags and numerous books.

The books found were “Black Power: The Politics of Liberation,” by Kwame Ture; “A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story,” by Elaine Brown; “I Ching,” by The Taoist; two copies of “The Tao of Health, Sex and Longevity,” by Daniel P. Reid; “Healing with Pressure Point Therapy,” by Steve Shimer; and “The War with Hannibal,” by Titus Levy.

Courts in Virginia are closed today for Election Day. Testimony in Mr. Muhammad’s trial will resume tomorrow morning.


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