- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

Convicted sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad yesterday tearfully told a Montgomery County jury that when he lost his children in a 2001 custody battle that it “was my September 11.”

In a 15-minute opening statement, Muhammad, representing himself in his second trial in the 2002 sniper shootings, said his world was shattered when police took his children.

“I couldn’t be strong. I couldn’t be brave. I couldn’t be anything. … So I had to start looking for my children,” said the 45-year-old Army veteran.

Muhammad is on trial in six slayings that occurred in Montgomery County as part of the larger shooting spree that killed 10 and wounded three in a three-week span.

A Virginia Beach jury in 2003 found Muhammad guilty of murder in Virginia and of using Lee Boyd Malvo, now 21, as an accomplice. The jury sentenced Muhammad to death, and two months later, a Chesapeake jury gave Malvo life without parole for his role in the slaying of a woman in Falls Church.

Muhammad is accused of having carried out the carefully planned shooting rampage with Malvo to eventually kill his ex-wife and regain custody of the couple’s three children.

On Sept. 4, 2001, a judge awarded Muhammad’s ex-wife, Mildred, custody of the children.

Muhammad, wearing a dark business suit and a cream-colored tie, gave an opening statement that was similar to other addresses he has made in the past — referencing Jesus, Plato, the Bible and the Army code of conduct. Muhammad also represented himself in his first trial in Virginia Beach for two days before a toothache prevented him from continuing.

He began yesterday’s speech by telling a story about almost losing his son, John Jr., in the surf on a Caribbean beach.

In March 2000, he 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 that Mrs. Muhammad was reunited with her children and took them back to Clinton Md.

Muhammad said that when he lost his children, he “went back to that day in the Caribbean.”

“It hit me that my children were in that water,” he said.

Muhammad said that he and Malvo then went to Maryland to look for John Jr., then 12, Salena, then 10, and Taalibah, then 9.

Muhammad characterized his and Malvo’s arrests, on Oct. 24, 2002, as a surprise.

“We were trying to figure out what was going on, and then I find myself in Maryland,” Muhammad said. “The evidence is going to show you that John Allen Muhammad is innocent. And the evidence is going to show that my son, Lee Boyd Malvo, is innocent.”

Jurors showed little emotion and listened intently.

Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Katherine Winfree spoke for 95 minutes in her opening statement, laying out a road map of the shootings and the evidence compiled against Muhammad.

Before opening statements, Ms. Winfree and Muhammad agreed on 12 jurors and 4 alternate jurors in about 45 minutes.

This jury has seven women and five men, with one female and three male alternates.

Among the 12 jurors, there are three white women, two black women, two white men, one black man, one Hispanic man, one Hispanic woman, one Asian man and one South Asian woman.

Two of the alternates are white males, one is an Asian male, and the fourth is an South Asian woman.

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