- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH — A former Army buddy of John Allen Muhammad’s yesterday testified that Mr. Muhammad introduced Lee Boyd Malvo to him as a sniper early last year.

“John introduced him to me … and he said he was a sniper,” auto mechanic Robert Holmes testified in the Muhammad sniper trial. “Lee just smiled.”

Mr. Holmes, who lives in Tacoma, Wash., also testified that Mr. Muhammad tried several times to make a silencer for a Bushmaster rifle he had acquired over the summer last year.

“Imagine what damage you could do with a silencer,” Mr. Holmes quoted the defendant as saying.

He said he met Mr. Muhammad in 1985 at Fort Lewis, Wash., during their stints in the Army, but his friendship with Mr. Muhammad gave way to suspicion last year about his actions and relationship with Mr. Malvo, which finally prompted Mr. Holmes to call the FBI.

Mr. Holmes’ testimony about Mr. Muhammad’s personal past and that of a Baptist pastor who runs a homeless shelter in Bellingham, Wash., caused the usually stone-faced defendant to fight back tears. The two men were the only witnesses to testify yesterday, the 18th day of the trial.

Earlier yesterday, the jury was taken from the courthouse to the Virginia Beach City Jail to view the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice in which Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were arrested with the Bushmaster rifle on Oct. 24, 2002.

On Thursday, Prince William County prosecutors presented a model of the car, the back end of a similar Caprice and a videotape to show how a sniper could climb from the back seat into the trunk and fire a weapon through a hole cut into the trunk’s lid.

Yesterday, the 12 jurors and their three alternates were taken into a small, enclosed port in the jail and spent 10 minutes examining the Caprice. Prince William Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. allowed one newspaper reporter to be present and give details of the examination to all other reporters.

The jury paid particular attention to the trunk, the hole cut in the trunk over the license plate and the hinged rear seat, which opened upward to reveal a nearly 2-foot-high hole through which prosecutors say the suspects could have crawled to ready themselves to shoot.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and Mr. Malvo, 18, are accused of killing 10 persons and wounding three during a three-week rampage in October 2002 in the D.C. area. They also have been linked to nine other shootings, five fatal, in five states last year.

Mr. Muhammad is being tried on two capital murder charges in the Oct. 9, 2002, shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station — one under the state’s antiterrorism law, the other for killing more than one person in three years.

His defense attorney, Peter D. Greenspun, yesterday argued that jurors should not be allowed to see the Caprice. He said if prosecutors had wanted the jury to see the car, they should have shown it to them on Thursday instead of presenting a replica of the Caprice’s trunk for dramatic effect.

Judge Millette allowed the jury to see the Caprice, saying it would offer “a more complete illustration.”

Mr. Muhammad’s responses to testimony by Mr. Holmes and the Rev. Albert Archer ran counter to his usual stoic expression. When his three children were mentioned several times during testimony, the suspect became teary and dropped his head.

Mr. Archer, who runs the Lighthouse Mission homeless shelter in Bellingham, Wash., also began to lose his composure when Mr. Greenspun cross-examined him about what kind of a father Mr. Muhammad was to his children, who he brought with him to the shelter on Aug. 16, 2001. He said the children were “extremely well cared for.”

“He gave them a lot of attention,” the Baptist minister said, his voice wavering.

Mr. Muhammad lost custody of his three children to his ex-wife, Mildred, on Aug. 31, 2001, and they went to live with her in Maryland.

Mr. Holmes said he saw Mr. Muhammad after losing custody of the children, adding that the defendant was “upset because he said when he went to court he wasn’t given the opportunity to say anything.”

“He was just kind of withdrawn, upset. It’s like controlled anger, controlled aggression. … If somebody else was looking at him, they wouldn’t know it,” Mr. Holmes said.

Mr. Muhammad later appeared at Mr. Archer’s shelter with Mr. Malvo, who was then 16.

“He introduced him to me as his son,” said Mr. Archer, adding that he did not believe that claim. “It appeared to me that Mr. Muhammad had a very strong influence.”

The prosecution’s theory — which is similar that of Mr. Malvo’s defense — is that Mr. Muhammad controlled the fatherless teenager and used him to carry out the sniper rampage.

Mr. Malvo goes on trial Monday in nearby Chesapeake, Va., on murder charges in the Oct. 14, 2002, shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Falls Church Home Depot.

Prince William County prosecutor Paul Ebert has said he expects to rest his case as early as Monday, and the Muhammad trial may go to the jury as early as Nov. 17.

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