Mildred Muhammad says if the police and others “had just listened” to her, the victims of the D.C. sniper might still be alive and ex-husband John Allen Muhammad would not be facing execution next week.
“If they just would have listened, if they just would have put his name in the [National Crime Information Center], if he had been debriefed, if he had been counseled,” she said, shaking her head in hindsight about the preventive measures that might have averted the 2002 sniper shooting spree.
Speaking in the suburban Washington office of her nonprofit anti-domestic violence organization, After the Trauma, Mrs. Muhammad maintained that Muhammad conducted the sniper spree as an elaborate ruse to disguise his plans to kill her and reclaim the three children he lost in their divorce in 1999.
“It’s unfortunate that innocent lives were lost because John wanted to cover up my murder,” she said.
Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, then a teenager, terrorized the area during a three-week killing spree in October 2002 that left 10 people dead. Muhammad was sentenced to death for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas gas station and is scheduled to be executed Tuesday. Malvo was sentenced to life without parole.
Lawyers for Muhammad have filed for clemency from Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine on the grounds that their client is mentally ill. They are seeking a stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now, Mrs. Muhammad’s main mission is getting the public to realize that victims of domestic violence do not have to show scars to prove abuse. Verbal, psychological, financial abuse and stalking — all of which she suffered toward the end of her dozen years with Muhammad - are insidious forms of domestic violence that often occur long before the bruises, beatings and even death.
She has written a book about her experience, called “Scared Silent,” which was released last month. She said the date was timed to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month and was set before a Virginia judge scheduled Muhammad’s execution date.
“It is not to explain or get notoriety,” she said of the book.
Based on how her ex-husband interacted with his own children, Mrs. Muhammad said she is certain Muhammad manipulated Malvo, whom she never met. She agreed to testify on Malvo’s behalf at her children’s insistence because they blamed their father for his accomplice’s actions.
“They thought [Malvo] was a good person. They had fun with him. They went swimming with him, and that’s what friends do,” she said. “That’s why they asked me to help Lee. They said, ‘Mommy, you have to help Lee because if it wasn’t for Daddy, he wouldn’t be where he is.’ ”
“Lee was a victim, too,” she said.
But to get someone to kill another human being? “You don’t know John,” she said.
She added that once Malvo was away from Muhammad, “a different person emerged and he was remorseful.” After he was captured, the teen sniper sent letters to victims’ families “telling them how sorry he was.”
Mrs. Muhammad, 50, said her ex-husband’s personality changed after he returned in March 1991 from Saudi Arabia, where he had served as an Army sergeant during the Gulf War.
“He acted as if his spirit had been broken - he was confused and depressed all the time and he didn’t know where he wanted to go or how to get there,” she said.
Eventually, he “manipulated” the couple’s friends and convinced them that she was “a drama queen” who lied about his abuses.
“An abuser is a ‘Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde’ for a reason; he is a different person on the inside, from the outside … he was two different people,” she said. She contended that this explains Muhammad’s insistence on his innocence in the slayings: “If you didn’t see me do it, then I didn’t do it.”
Mrs. Muhammad said it is ironic that when her ex-husband was first caught, the only thing police had to hold him on was a weapons charge that stemmed from a restraining order she had obtained against him in Tacoma, Wash.
Police staked out her sister’s suburban Maryland home, where she sought refuge from Muhammad, for a nearly week before they knocked on the door, took her to police headquarters and interrogated her, then reluctantly revealed that they were going to charge Muhammad for the sniper shootings.
All she could think about was how to tell her children before they heard it from the media.
“It’s still hard to believe that John… did all that…” she said.
Throughout the ordeal, Mrs. Muhammad’s biggest concern has been the well-being of her three children, she said. “I’ve been helping my children deal with their dad and Lee Malvo at the same time.”
Neither she nor the children have seen or spoken to Muhammad since he was captured in 2002, but they sent him a letter asking to visit him before his execution.
The children “know what the public feels about their father,” she said, adding that “they don’t condone nor do they feel responsible” for what Muhammad did.
“Regardless of how anybody else feels, he’s still their father,” she said.
Her college-aged son and two teen daughters “need to see him … to seek some type of closure and say ‘I love you’ one more time.”
That last-minute request for a visit is unlikely to be granted, given prison rules. She said it wouldn’t be appropriate for the children to watch their father die.
Even though it was painful, the children watched many of the news accounts and documentaries about Muhammad’s crimes.
“It was hard for me, but I felt like they needed to know,” Mrs. Muhammad said. “And you can’t put your head in the sand about this, this was worldwide news. To deprive them of the information would have been more of an insult to them and would have harmed them in the long run.”
They seem “pretty well now” as the execution date approaches, Mrs. Muhammad said. “We’re handling it one day at a time.”
Mrs. Muhammad is waiting for her children to say what they want to do on Tuesday evening when the execution takes place. Whatever it is, she said, “we will be at home,” together.