- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

Early in his more-than-three-hour closing statement, convicted sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad laid out the heart of his defense against six murder charges stemming from the 2002 sniper shootings: He and accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo were framed.

“My case is based on one thing. It is very simple. They lied on two innocent men,” Muhammad said Friday, before launching into a rambling speech in which he said government agencies, including the CIA, worked to falsely imprison him.

But as Montgomery County jurors begin deliberations today in Muhammad’s second trial in the shootings, they will weigh this conspiracy theory — for which he offered little proof and no motive — against the four weeks of testimony and evidence presented by prosecutors.

Witnesses reported seeing Muhammad and his Chevrolet Caprice near scenes of the shootings.

Forensic analysts said his DNA was on evidence that included parts of the Bushmaster rifle found in the Caprice when he and Malvo were arrested.

Ballistics analysts matched the .223-caliber bullets used in the killings to the rifle.

Jurors also heard dramatic testimony from Malvo, whom Muhammad still referred to as “my son” even though his former protege took the stand to say Muhammad planned and carried out most of the shootings.

The jury of seven women and five men also likely will consider their personal impressions of Muhammad, who defended himself.

He came to Montgomery County from Virginia’s death row, convicted by a jury that heard most of the same evidence in 2003.

Muhammad showed he has learned a lot about lawyering — he seemed comfortable with courtroom procedure, asking the “court’s indulgence” when he wanted more time to prepare his thoughts. He cross-examined government witnesses, seizing on inconsistency in reports, looking for holes to suggest he was set up.

Prosecutors urged jurors not to be fooled by Muhammad’s courtroom demeanor. It was a facade, Assistant State’s Attorney Vivek Chopra said in his closing.

“Scrub away that veneer that covers this man and see him for what he is,” Mr. Chopra said, labeling Muhammad “a heartless, soulless, manipulating murderer.”

Ten persons were killed and three were wounded during the three weeks of shootings in October 2002.

Victims were shot at gas stations, in parking lots, and a 13-year-old boy was struck by a bullet outside his Bowie middle school. The randomness sowed pervasive fear among people, who were afraid to pump gas, go out or send their children to school.

Muhammad and Malvo were arrested Oct. 24, 2002, as they slept in the Caprice at a Western Maryland rest stop. Behind the back seat was the Bushmaster. Authorities discovered a hole bored in the trunk of the Caprice, allowing a shooter to lie inside to fire.

A Virginia jury convicted Muhammad of a shooting at a Manassas gas station, and Malvo was given a life term for a shooting at the Home Depot in Falls Church. Montgomery County prosecutors say their case is insurance in case Muhammad’s Virginia conviction is overturned.

The two men also are suspected in earlier shootings in Maryland, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana and Washington state.

The composition of Montgomery County’s jury may be key to whether Muhammad is convicted.

Most candidates said during jury selection that they vividly remembered the shootings and knew that he had been convicted in Virginia.

Some of the jurors selected said they thought Muhammad was guilty, but they agreed to put that opinion aside and focus on the evidence.

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