- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Four witnesses testified yesterday that they received cryptic phone calls during the Washington-area sniper shootings — calls that eventually helped lead to the arrest of John Allen Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo.

Authorities think Muhammad and Malvo made several calls to police, and even to a Virginia priest, as they tried to negotiate with investigators over their demands, which included $10 million to stop the random killings in October 2002. In each, the callers used a code detailed in notes left at several shooting scenes.

The Rev. William Sullivan, a priest at an Ashland, Va., church, said he received a call Oct. 18 in the church rectory. The caller used the “call me God” language that was found on a note near the shooting of a middle school student in Bowie, then began to refer to a shooting in Montgomery, Ala.

“He said the police should check this robbery of this liquor store,” in Alabama, Father Sullivan told jurors in Muhammad’s trial in the six sniper shootings that took place in Montgomery County.

Authorities later linked a fingerprint found at the scene of the Sept. 21, 2002, shooting in Montgomery, Ala., that killed Claudine Parker and injured co-worker Kellie Adams, to Malvo. With that information, police were able to identify Muhammad and Malvo as suspects in the Washington shootings.

A Montgomery County police officer, a Rockville police officer and an FBI agent yesterday recounted brief conversations they had with a caller authorities think was Malvo.

Muhammad, who is acting as his own lawyer, tried to pick apart errors and discrepancies in statements the witnesses gave to investigators. He questioned whether audiotapes of some of the phone calls had been enhanced or edited.

Yesterday, prosecutors finished presenting evidence from the 13 sniper shootings in Maryland, Virginia and the District that killed 10 persons and wounded three. The two men also have been linked to sniper shootings in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Washington state.

Muhammand, 45, in 2003 was sentenced to death for one of the Virginia shootings. Malvo was given a life term for another Virginia sniper killing.

In Montgomery County, both are charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of James D. Martin, Premkumar A. Walekar, James L. “Sonny” Buchanan, Sarah Ramos, Lori Lewis Rivera and Conrad E. Johnson.

A police officer testified yesterday that Mr. Johnson, a Ride On bus driver who was the final sniper victim when he was killed Oct. 22, 2002, described to police how he had been shot as he lay bleeding on his bus.

“He told me the shot came from the woods,” said Montgomery County Officer James Cherry, the first officer on the scene when Mr. Johnson was shot in Aspen Hill. “He told me he had been shot in the chest.”

Forensics officers also testified about a duffel bag, glove and handwritten note found in the woods near the bus. The note, the third message left at a shooting scene, chastised police for ignoring the sniper’s demands, which included a $10 million payment to end the shootings.

Two days later, Muhammad and Malvo were arrested at a highway rest stop near Myersville, Md., with a Bushmaster rifle in the trunk of their car.

Prosecutors are expected to begin their forensics case against Muhammad soon. That likely will include ballistics evidence tying most of the sniper bullets to the Bushmaster. Prosecutors also have said they have DNA evidence found at several crime scenes and on the gun matched to Muhammad and Malvo.

Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat contributed to this report.

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