Thursday, August 5, 2010

DC Sniper Claims 'other co-conspirators were involved' but Later Killed

from mediamonarchyaaron dykes: In a startling conversation with William Shatner, for the upcoming program ‘Aftermath’, convicted D.C. Sniper Lee Malvo makes new claims that at least two other co-conspirators besides ringleader John Muhammad were to be involved in the shootings, but later backed out. These two conspirators were then allegedly killed for quitting at Muhammad’s insistence. A preview report on ABC demonstrates audio of Lee Boyd Malvo, convicted for his role in the 2002 murder spree and serving life in prison, whonow claims involvement in 42 shootings, many more than the 13 known shootings discussed publicly.

Flashback: Rock Creek Free Press Vol 2 No 10 2008
DC Sniper Case 6 Years Later

Be prepared for a long stay on this article as it is packed with info and posted here as a mirror should Dave's great site disappear. His books are a great read and full of incredible research.

Dave McGowan
Special Bulletin: The DC Snipers October 31, 2002 (updated and re-posted on November 10, 2003)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled newsletter for this special bulletin ...

Two unlikely suspects have been selected to play the roles of the feared 'DC Snipers': John Allen Muhammad, usually described as a 41-year-old 'drifter,' although until fairly recently he had spent his entire adult life in the military; and a 17-year-old Jamaican immigrant named Lee Boyd Malvo (also identified as Lee Byron Malvo and John Lee Malvo), who entered the country illegally several years ago.

The pair allegedly conducted their killing spree by utilizing what police have described as a car specially modified to create a mobile sniper's nest. There are, alas, numerous problems with the official scenario. And there is certainly no shortage of weirdness surrounding the alleged exploits of the pair.

Consider the following:
  • Muhammad's ex-wife, with whom he has had a stormy relationship marked by bitter custody battles, recently relocated to the DC area to take a job at, of all places, John Ashcroft's Justice Department. This peculiar fact, reported by the British press, has been curiously absent in the blanket coverage of the case by the American media.                                (,6903,820087,00.html)
  • Two years ago, Muhammad reportedly kidnapped his own children, in direct violation of a court order, and took them out of the country for an extended period of time. There is no indication that he was charged with any crime in connection with those actions, nor for repeatedly threatening his former wife.
  • That same former wife charged Muhammad, in court documents, with tapping her phone line. No explanation has been given as to how Muhammad acquired the necessary skills and equipment.                                 (
  • The rifle allegedly used in the shootings was purchased in June from a Tacoma, Washington-based dealer operating under the name "Bull's Eye Shooter Supply." The shop, located near the Army's Ft. Lewis base, is owned by a former U.S. Army sniper instructor. Muhammad completed his lengthy tour of duty at Ft. Lewis, which has, curiously enough, a sniper training program. (
  • ... but wait. According to investigator/writer Jon Rappoport's newsletters, the Bushmaster rifle that authorities first tried to connect to Muhammad was actually purchased, by Muhammad, from a different Tacoma gun dealer operating as "Welcher's Gun Shop." The problem, apparently, is that Muhammad subsequently sold that gun back to Welcher's, which then sold it to another customer, who still has the gun in Tacoma. Rappoport claims that those transactions were confirmed by Welcher's employees. In order then to put another Bushmaster rifle in Muhammad's hands, it was claimed that he had, after selling back the first rifle, purchased an identical one from Bull's Eye. If Rappoport's information is correct, then it is conceivable that the alleged purchase of a second rifle was fabricated after the fact. [Update: It doesn't require much reading between the lines of a June 2003 L.A. Times report to reach the conclusion that Bull's Eye has a history of supplying weapons for covert operations. It would hardly be surprising if that entity also pretended to supply a weapon to a patsy: "One of the rifles confiscated from Buford O. Furrow Jr. on the day he killed a postal worker and wounded five people at a Los Angeles Jewish community center was sold at the same Tacoma, Wash, gun store linked to the rifle used by the Washington, D.C. snipers ... In 1997, the Tacoma retailer, Bull's Eye Shooter Supply, sold Furrow one of two .308 caliber Imbel rifles found in his van ... Authorities have also traced the Bushmaster .223-caliber semiautomatic assault rifle allegedly used by John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo ... to the same Tacoma gun store. After the manufacturer shipped the gun there, there are no records reflecting how it left the store, according to court records ... Authorities have traced guns involved in 52 crimes to Bull's Eye from 1997 to 2001 ... At least 238 guns - including the one allegedly used by the snipers - have 'disappeared' from the store in the last three years ..." (,1,3241028.story) (emphasis added)]
  • Although Muhammad is generally portrayed by the media as a chronically unemployed drifter who made a habit of staying at homeless shelters, he doesn't appear to have had money problems. Consider all of the following facts which have emerged in various press accounts:
    • Before kidnapping his children, Muhammad was ordered to pay nearly $900 per month in child support ($869, by one account), indicating that the court had reason to believe that he had a fairly substantial income at the time.
    • He has reportedly owned, or co-owned, a number of businesses, including a karate school, an auto repair shop, and something that he called, strangely enough, "Reality Enterprises."                                     (
    • A number of witnesses have commented on the incongruity of an allegedly homeless man who always had money to spend. The L.A. Times reported that a former girlfriend told her family that Muhammad's "story didn't make any sense ... He was a hard-luck drifter with money, a man who could pick up and fly to the Caribbean whenever he got the inclination." The same Times report added that "She wasn't the only one asking questions ... The director of the shelter has said [of Muhammad] ... 'He was rather secretive about his past and present ... He was closed-mouthed. He didn't have a visible source of income, but he was able to travel at a moment's notice.'" ( The Independent Online noted that with "no apparent means of support, Muhammad and companion John Lee Malvo traveled from the Caribbean to the north-western United States, and points in between, over the past year and a half. How they financed their activities remains a mystery." The man who runs the homeless mission where Muhammad last stayed in Washington state, Reverend Alan Archer, was reportedly "amazed to see Muhammad getting phone calls from a travel agent." Archer recalled that Muhammad flew off on ski trips to both Denver and Salt Lake City.                      (
    • While living in Antigua, with no visible means of support, Muhammad nevertheless was able to send all three of his children to an exclusive, private school.                                                         (
  • Two years ago, Muhammad, an American citizen born and raised in Louisiana, obtained an Antiguan passport -- allegedly by lying about who his mother was. Why he would be taken at his word and not required to show proof of Antiguan citizenship has not been explained. ( Also unexplained is why he was issued the passport in July 2000, although the Antiguan government claims that its records don't show Muhammad entering the country until May 2001. ( Was Muhammad traveling on that passport between July 2000 and May 2001? And if so, to where?
  • Initial reports speculated that Muhammad had received sniper training. The Army has subsequently denied this. Most reports now hold that Muhammad, throughout what the Times described as a "checkered, 16-year military career," never distinguished himself as a skilled shooter. ( As the Times explained: "All soldiers entering the Army undergo basic training with M-16 rifles. Once every year, they have to requalify, earning 'marksman,' 'sharpshooter' or 'expert' marks. Muhammad ultimately earned only a sharpshooter mark, so to compare him to a military sniper would be inaccurate." ( Indeed it would. To even be considered for admission to the Army's sniper schools reportedly requires three consecutive 'expert' rankings. Muhammad could not even manage one such score over the course of a sixteen year career. He could though, rather amazingly, score head shots on live targets from up to 500 yards away, even while firing from inside a cramped car trunk with limited visibility. Imagine that.
  • ... but wait. Did Muhammad have more training than what is officially acknowledged? He frequently claimed that he had. Was this just baseless boasting?
  • Muhammad's alleged accomplice, just seventeen years old and with no formal firearms training, is claimed to have been the gunman in some of the sniper shootings. Reports claim that Muhammad trained Malvo in the use of firearms by taking target practice on a tree stump in the backyard of a Tacoma home -- as though hitting a large tree stump from across a backyard is equivalent to hitting a human target from hundreds of yards away, from an awkward position within a car trunk.
  • According to published reports, neither of the two had ever lived in the Washington, DC area. The pair arrived there just prior to the time that the shootings started. Strangely though, they had a thorough enough knowledge of the area to locate strategic sites from which to shoot, and to map out escape routes that enabled them to evade capture.
  • The car, a 1990 blue Chevrolet Caprice acquired just before the shooting spree began, is a former police cruiser that was purchased from a New Jersey auto dealership named (and this, I have to say, is a nice touch) "Sure Shot Autos."                   (
  • The nation bore witness to some of the most brilliant police work in recent memory when someone saw fit to release a "composite sketch" of a featureless, white, box truck, and then have that image plastered all over the nation's television screens. Could anything have possibly been more counterproductive? You can imagine the calls flooding into the hotline: "Yeah, I think I counted 27 of them sniper trucks today."
  • Just hours before the suspects were arrested, Chief Charles Moose - who has become a fixture on cable and network newscasts - issued via national television what appeared for all the world to be a post-hypnotic, 'triggering' cue. As the Guardian described it: "Hours before the arrest yesterday morning of the two men now believed to be responsible for the string of murders around Washington, the Montgomery county police chief, Charles Moose, made his strangest communication with the then-unknown suspects. Swallowing hard, he began to read from a prepared statement. 'You indicated that you want us to do and say certain things,' he said, as mystified reporters looked on. 'You asked us to say, quote: 'We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.' We understand that hearing us say that is important to you.' Investigators offered no illumination of the reference, even after John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo were taken into custody yesterday." Just hours later, the suddenly known suspects were found sleeping soundly and were taken into custody without offering any resistance. They were only a few miles from both the first and last shooting scenes. That final surreal announcement followed a series of increasingly bizarre, cryptic communications by Moose to the purported snipers. (,3604,818958,00.html)
  • At one point, Moose pleaded with the suspects to call police on the phone number that had supposedly been left behind in a message from the sniper. No one in the media bothered to ask why, if the number was in fact left by the sniper, the police were now imploring the suspect to call them on that number. Did the sniper leave the police their own phone number, just in case they might have forgotten it?
  • Until last year, John Allen Muhammad was known as John Allen Williams. He changed his name just in time, it appears, for the media to be able to portray him as some sort of Islamic fundamentalist. But just eleven years ago, Williams served in the Gulf War, demonstrating that he apparently had no reservations about participating in a brutal assault upon a predominantly Islamic nation. (,3604,819054,00.html)
  • Muhammad has been described by various witnesses as an extremely controlling man who exerted an extraordinary amount of influence over his young accomplice. Their relationship has been described as "drill sergeant/recruit." Some reports claim that the pair first met in Antigua, while others suggest that they first teamed up in Tacoma. No reports have offered much insight into how or why this odd couple became partners. (,3604,819695,00.html)
  • Muhammad was not at first booked on murder charges, but rather on charges of harassing his ex-wife two years ago.
  • As previously noted, Malvo entered the United States illegally. Not long before the sniper killings began, he was detained by the INS, who were aware of his status as an illegal immigrant. Strangely though, he was subsequently released. Under normal circumstances, Malvo would have been deported.
  • It is asserted by the police that someone claiming to be the sniper told them in a telephone conversation that they should "take him seriously," and that if they had any doubts about that, they should "check with the people in Montgomery." If this conversation did in fact take place, the most logical conclusion to draw would be that the sniper was referring to Montgomery County, Maryland, where six of the sniper's victims were shot. But for some inexplicable reason, police immediately focused their attention on Montgomery, Alabama, where they claimed to have connected the sniper killings to a seemingly unrelated robbery/murder that was committed with a handgun of a caliber not known to have been in the possession of either Muhammad or Malvo. Among the unanswered questions raised by that unexpected turn of events: why did investigators turn their attention to Alabama? why did they zero in on that particular unsolved crime? and how were they able to suddenly identify a previously unidentified fingerprint? 
  • The L.A. Times reported that there were a number of items in the suspects' car at the time of their arrest that seem a little out of place in a homeless drifter's vehicle. In addition to the (planted?) Bushmaster rifle, scope and bipod, there was a Sony laptop computer, a pair of two-way radios, and - as one might expect to find - a global positioning system.                     (
  • That same Times report implicates Muhammad in the February 16 murder of a 21-year-old Tacoma, Washington woman. The link to Muhammad was made as follows: "Tacoma Police Chief David A. Brame said at a news conference late Monday that a Tacoma gun hobbyist he declined to identify had befriended and housed Muhammad and Malvo for several months this year. The gun owner came forward after the two men were charged in the sniper rampage. Brame said the man voluntarily turned over to police a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and a .44 magnum revolver that he said he had loaned to Muhammad on occasion during the first six months of this year." Ballistic tests purportedly revealed that the .45 was used to murder the woman and the .44 was used to vandalize a synagogue. Obvious questions arise: Who is this mysterious "gun hobbyist"? Is he a member of the law enforcement community? Why did he "on occasion" loan his guns to a man he had known for only a few months? For what purpose did he think the guns were being used? Why isn't the "gun hobbyist" himself a suspect, and why is his identity being concealed?
  • On October 30, the New York Times reported that "State and federal investigators said today that John Muhammad had been talking to them for more than an hour on the day of his arrest in the sniper shootings, explaining the roots of his anger, when the United States attorney for Maryland told them to deliver him to Baltimore to face federal weapons charges and forcing them to end their interrogation." The investigators claimed that Muhammad had waived his right to an attorney and was talking freely when federal prosecutor Thomas Di Biagio shut their interrogation down. Di Biagio claimed that he was acting on orders from the White House and the U.S. Justice Department, though both seem to have distanced themselves from Di Biagio's actions. Investigators claim that they felt confident that they could have gotten a confession out of Muhammad. Federal officials claimed, rather remarkably, that they weren't really interested in a confession. An unnamed "senior federal law enforcement official" was quoted as saying: "Tell me what more we need from them? We have the ballistics. We don't need the confession." But was it really a confession that federal officials were worried that the investigators might hear? Or was it something else? Whatever it was, they won't be hearing it now: "since then Muhammad has not talked to investigators."                                                 (
  • The Independent Online noted in passing, without elaboration, that Muhammad's ready supply of cash may have been due to a "combination of odd jobs and crimes that included human smuggling." Is that what Muhammad's rather mysterious travels were really all about? And if so, on whose behalf was he working?                                                               (
  • Clearly there was someone, or some entity, bankrolling Muhammad's activities. Who were his hidden benefactors? The media will likely either avoid the issue entirely or attempt to link Muhammad to some sort of 'terrorist' organization, although it isn't likely that many fingers will be pointed at his most likely benefactor: that world-wide terrorist organization that we all know and love as the CIA. [Update: former investigative reporter Jim Rarey has looked into Muhammad's criminal history and discovered that none of the alleged sniper's past arrests appear in the FBI's national database. Rarey has also raised questions about the ease with which Muhammad has avoided prosecution for his crimes. The obvious inference is that "the government for some reason was protecting Muhammad." (]
This bulletin includes only the bits and pieces of incongruous information that have emerged thus far through various avenues of the media. While there is far more that has yet to be discovered, it is already clear that there is much more to this story than what has been presented to the American people.

Meanwhile, U.S. authorities are busily maneuvering to stage a trial with a predetermined outcome -- one that will include the execution of 17-year-old Malvo. The media is clamoring for that execution to take place, even though there has been no compelling evidence presented thus far to indicate the young man's guilt.

It is important to remember that we are talking here about a kid who has been victimized throughout the entirety of his brief stay here on planet Earth. Born onto the mean streets of Jamaica, in a land ruled by violent druglords, and apparently abandoned by his father, Malvo survived a childhood that no kid should have to endure. Smuggled into the States in the hold of a cargo ship, in the hopes of finding a better life, Malvo found nothing but further victimization and despair -- at the hands of a man named John Allen Muhammad.

But through it all, Malvo remained - as friends and acquaintances have told reporters - an intelligent, thoughtful, unerringly polite and friendly kid. But he was also, if police spokesmen and the bloodthirsty media are to be believed, a serial sniper.

So let's execute the bastard. We don't even need to bother with a trial. The sooner the better. Maybe we can make it part of the half-time show at this year's Super Bowl.

_/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/

November 18, 2003
The DC Sniper Trial, Part I

Imagine, if you will, that you are on trial, in the state of Virginia, facing charges of having committed a specific, single act of homicide. And imagine that prosecutors repeatedly call witnesses to the stand to obtain testimony about other murders committed in other states by another perpetrator -- and then they declare you responsible for those crimes. And imagine that you have no idea what is coming next, because owing to an alleged peculiarity of Virginia law, the state is not bound by any of those newfangled disclosure rules; they get to keep their case under wraps. So you don't know from day to day if you will be defending yourself against charges of, say, committing a robbery/homicide in Louisiana, or charges of committing a sniper killing in Washington, D.C.. The charges are subject to change at any moment, sometimes several times a day. Imagine also that on the very week that your non-sequestered jury is seated, a movie is aired on cable television that portrays you as the perpetrator of more than a dozen brutal murders in seven states. And imagine that police are freely violating a court order prohibiting them from discussing evidence with the media. And, finally, imagine that that same media, without exception, has declared the state's case against you to be overwhelming, when a thoughtful examination reveals that the state actually has no case at all.

Would you find any of that just a bit odd? A little troubling, perhaps? Would you find yourself wondering what sort of Kafkaesque nightmare you had awakened to? Would you find yourself pondering the inevitable question: "Who the hell needs 'secret military tribunals' when a high-profile defendant can be railroaded in broad daylight in a public trial?"

The following question needs to be asked, although no one seems willing to ask it: could the trial of alleged 'DC Sniper' John Allen Muhammad possibly be any more of a farce?

There was never any doubt, of course, that any trial would necessarily be an entirely fraudulent affair, since it has been obvious for quite some time that Muhammad and sidekick Lee Boyd Malvo are likely little more than patsies set up to take the fall for what was, by all indications, a government-run covert operation.
(See Newsletter #20, recently updated and re-posted at:

But it is still a bit of a surprise, I suppose, that the trial is such an 
obvious farce.

For those who haven't been following the legal shenanigans, Muhammad, while publicly accused of complicity in as many as sixteen murders in at least seven different states, has been charged with, and is currently standing trial for, exactly 
one count of first-degree murder. Just one.

And why, you may wonder, has he not been charged with any of the other homicides? For the rather obvious reason that the state has no case. In fact, prosecutors don't even have a case to support the one murder charge that Muhammad 
is facing. So they have decided to pursue a rather creative legal strategy: they have taken the nearly nonexistent evidence that they have managed to gather/manufacture to support the single murder charge, and they have combined that with dubious bits and pieces of evidence that allegedly link the defendant to a dozen other uncharged murders, and then they have topped the whole thing off with a thick coating of gratuitously graphic, emotionally-charged testimony.

And in case focusing the trial on crimes other than the one that Muhammad is actually charged with is not enough of a judicial outrage, the state has gone one surreal step further: on multiple occasions, prosecutors have subpoenaed Muhammad's alleged accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, to appear in court so that he can be identified by witnesses to crimes that neither Muhammad nor Malvo have been charged with.

And these witnesses were not, mind you, called to the stand during Muhammad's trial so that they could identify both Muhammad 
and Malvo. No, they were called to identify Malvo alone -- to implicate him in crimes committed in Maryland, Alabama and Louisiana -- crimes that appear to have been committed by a single perpetrator. And that perpetrator was not the man sitting stoically at the defense table.

The admission of prejudicial evidence completely unrelated to the homicide that Muhammad is actually charged with has been justified by the media's 'legal analysts' on the basis of another alleged peculiarity of Virginia law that allows prosecutors to pursue a death sentence for multiple murders committed over a three year period, but not for a single act of murder. In order then for the state to seek a death sentence, according to an 
AP report, "prosecutors will have to prove Muhammad's involvement in the Meyers killing and at least one other fatal shooting."

So even though the defendant is charged with only one murder, the state needs to show that he committed at least two. It is perfectly okay then, so the dialogue goes, for prosecutors to enter evidence completely unrelated to the actual murder charge. Because it is, you see, a death penalty case.

In fact, prosecutors are pursuing two capital charges. The other charge is based on an openly fascistic, post-September 11 'anti-terrorism' law that allows the state to pursue a death sentence if the defendant's crimes were intended to "influence the government or to intimidate the civilian population," according to another 
AP report. The new law has never been prosecuted. Muhammad is a test case.

Now I will readily admit that I am not a lawyer, and I have not really spent a great deal of time studying Virginia law, but it seems to me that if the state wants to execute someone for being a multiple murderer, then the state's burden should be, at the very least, to actually convict that person of committing at least two 
specific murders. It just seems like the right thing to do -- because in a death penalty case, you generally want to keep the bar set fairly high.

The state claims that there are as many as sixteen separate murder counts that Muhammad could be charged with. Prosecutors need prove him guilty of just two of those crimes to achieve their goal. Wouldn't then the reasonable, and legal, approach be for prosecutors to pick out the two homicide counts for which they can build the strongest cases and then bring Muhammad to trial on those two murder charges? And isn't it fairly obvious to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the American criminal justice system that if it is a specific 
penalty that prosecutors wish to pursue, then the proper time to do that would be during thepenalty phase of the trial? Isn't it, as a general rule, a good idea to actually convict someone before pursuing a penalty?

Is it not the burden of the state, even in Virginia, to prove the defendant guilty of the specific crime for which he has been charged? And if the state succeeds in that initial goal, then isn't it during the
 penalty phase that follows, and only then, that evidence of other crimes should be allowed into evidence in support of the prosecution's request for a sentence of death?

As I noted previously, however, the state of Virginia has a problem: it cannot put together a prosecutable case on 
any of the individual murder charges. Not one. Nevertheless, the state really, really wants to execute John Allen Muhammad. And so prosecutors are basically saying to the jury: "Look, folks, we're claiming that this guy committed a whole string of cold-blooded murders, but we've only charged him with one, and we can't really even prove that one, so we're just going to throw out everything we have and let each of you pick whichever two murders you like best so that we can get on with executing this guy, who everyone already knows is the DC Sniper. And please remember that, whatever else you do, don't anyone think about watching DC Sniper: 23 Days of Fear, premiering this Friday night on the USA network at 9:00 PM Eastern time and featuring a stirring performance by Charles S. Dutton as Virginia's very own Chief Charles Moose."

It is important to fully appreciate the mockery of justice currently on display in a public courtroom in Virginia, because if it can happen to a suspect with the name recognition of John Allen Muhammad, then it can happen to anyone. Let's review then some of the highlights of Muhammad's trial.

The first witness called by the state was Mark Spicer, identified as a sergeant major in the British army with considerable expertise as a sniper. Spicer's job as a witness was to sell to the jury the dubious proposition that professionally trained snipers always work in two-man teams. The intent was to present Muhammad and Malvo as an inseparable, two-headed beast. Any subsequent evidence implicating Malvo, therefore, would also necessarily implicate Muhammad -- even when it didn't appear to.

Muhammad, who briefly served as his own attorney - after demanding just prior to opening statements that he be allowed to exercise that right, much to the consternation of the judge, the prosecutors, the media, and Muhammad's own defense attorneys, Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro - lodged two perfectly reasonable objections. He first objected on the grounds that he had not been given notice of Spicer's testimony. Prosecutor Paul Ebert responded that he was not, it being Virginia and all, required to provide such notice. Judge LeRoy F. Millette, Jr. quickly agreed. Muhammad next objected on the grounds that Spicer's testimony was not relevant, unless the witness was prepared to show that Muhammad had received the type of training that Spicer was describing. Again, the objection was overruled.

Prosecutors did not, needless to say, offer any evidence that Muhammad had received such training -- nor did they offer any explanation for why they had to journey all the way to the UK to find a witness who could establish a key element of their case.

Prosecutors then presented their evidence, such as it was, in support of the charge that Muhammad shot and killed Dean Harold Meyers outside a Prince William County gas station on October 9, 2002. Police officer Steven Bailey testified that he stopped Muhammad and spoke briefly with him as the defendant was attempting to exit a restaurant parking lot from which police claim the fatal shot was fired. Bailey said that this encounter occurred a half-hour after Meyers had been killed.

You don't say? So the master sniper picked off a victim and then sat there - in his Snipermobile, cradling his scope-equipped sniper rifle, and checking his Global Positioning System and notebook computer - for a full 30 minutes, while he waited for a massive police response? While he waited for a checkpoint to be established at the exit to the very parking lot that he was sitting in, in his Snipermobile? And then he casually drove away through a phalanx of officers, pausing briefly to chat with officer Bailey? I never would have guessed that.

Bailey informed the jury that Muhammad had lied to him that day, claiming that police had directed him into the parking lot. He had accepted that explanation, Bailey testified, and regrettably waved the Snipermobile through -- although you would think that Bailey would have been aware that police were actually barring entry to the lot, not steering cars into it.

Jason Salazar offered an eyewitness account of the shooting. Actually, Salazar offered more of an 
earwitness account. As prosecutor James Willet acknowledged in his opening statement, the state had "no eyewitness testimony to any of these shootings." Willet was quick to add that that only proved "how clever [Muhammad] is."

Salazar testified that he heard a shot and subsequently saw Meyers slumped in a pool of blood. He didn't see where the shot came from and he had no idea who had fired it; he only saw the bloody aftermath. Salazar's testimony was apparently intended to introduce jurors to the brutality, and the suddenness, of death by gunshot. For the next three weeks, jurors will be bombarded with graphic images depicting the damage that a .223-caliber assault rifle can do to the human body. The images will be designed to shock and disgust, and they will prove quite effective.

No one in the courtroom will mention that, even as jurors and spectators are grimacing at the grisly images, that very same .223-caliber ammunition is ripping apart the bodies of Iraqi men, women, and children. No one will mention that, thousands of miles away, the mayhem depicted in the prosecution's photographic exhibits is an everyday occurrence. And no one will mention that during the three weeks that prosecutors spend presenting their parade of bloody exhibits, the shredded remains of dozens of 'coalition' troops will be shipped home in body bags. Images of that carnage will not be displayed, and so there will be little outrage, and no one will be held accountable. But that, I guess, is another story entirely.

Larry Meyers, a brother of the victim, was called to the stand to eulogize his slain sibling. After doing so, he was shown a photograph of his brother and asked by Ebert: "Does this represent your brother in life?" He was then shown a gruesome crime scene photo and asked: "Does this represent your brother in death?" Larry Meyers had not witnessed his brother's death. His testimony proved only that the prosecution team was perfectly willing to shamelessly exploit the bereaved relatives of victims to inflame the passions of the jury.

Linda Thompson, identified as a bank manager, testified that she saw both Muhammad and Malvo, and their Snipermobile, outside her work not long before Meyers was shot nearby. If her identification of Muhammad was accurate, then her testimony placed him, along with thousands of other potential suspects, in the vicinity of the crime within hours of the time that it was committed.

Having established that, and nothing more, prosecutors then moved on to other, uncharged, crimes. A Clinton, Maryland restaurant owner named Paul LaRuffa took the stand to describe being shot and robbed outside his place of business on September 5, 2002. He did not see who had shot him. Asked directly by Muhammad if he could identify the shooter in the courtroom, he answered "no."

On the third day, the trial took another unexpected turn: after competently representing himself for two days, Muhammad reportedly asked, during a bench conference, that his attorneys be reinstated. An
Associated Press account noted that Muhammad's "face [wa]s badly swollen from a chronic toothache" that day in court. The report did not mention why, if the defendant was indeed suffering with a chronic toothache, he had not received treatment for it. The Baltimore Sun reported that Muhammad's decision came "thanks to an abscessed tooth and a little prodding by Judge LeRoy F. Millette, Jr." The trial unexpectedly shut down the next day due to a purported power outage that apparently affected only the courthouse.

Witness Muhammad Rashid took the stand to describe being shot on September 15, 2002 as he locked up the liquor store where he worked in Brandywine, Maryland. Malvo was brought involuntarily to the courtroom by prosecutors so that he could be identified by the witness. The man on trial was not implicated in the uncharged crime, which did not involve the use of the Bushmaster assault rifle; both Rashid and LaRuffa were shot with a .22-caliber weapon.

Witness Kellie Adams provided an account of an attack upon her and a co-worker, Claudine Parker, in Montgomery, Alabama that occurred on September 21, just six days after the attack in Brandywine, Maryland. Adams did not see her assailant, but she offered harrowing accounts of her co-worker's death and her own disabling injuries.

Alabama police officer James Graboys identified Malvo, who was again brought involuntarily into the courtroom, as the assailant that he had chased in his police cruiser. He claimed that he had gotten a "very good glimpse" of the attacker, from 10 to 15 feet away. Despite getting that close to the suspect, the officer failed to apprehend him (or shoot him, as might be expected in Alabama when an armed black suspect is seen fleeing a murder scene), as did another officer who testified that he arrived on the scene in time to see a young suspect looking through a purse and then fleeing, with gun in hand.

Another witness testified that she found a .22-caliber handgun a month after the shooting near where Graboys had chased the suspect. No witnesses recalled seeing any gun other than the handgun wielded by the fleeing suspect. And no one saw any other assailants. One would assume then that the two victims were shot with the handgun carried by the lone fleeing suspect.

Medical examiner Emily Ward, however, had a different story to tell. She claimed that the actual murder weapon was not the handgun that witnesses recalled seeing, but an unseen high-powered rifle -- a rifle wielded by, presumably, an unseen John Allen Muhammad. And that wasn't the only strange twist to this particular crime: although the .22-caliber handgun belatedly recovered from the scene played no role in the crime, it turned out to be, believe it or not, the gun that had allegedly been used to shoot both Paul LaRuffa and Muhammad Rashid!

So what we have here is what initially appeared to be a run-of-the-mill, botched liquor store robbery (the two women were shot while locking up the store), committed by a single handgun-wielding suspect who evaded capture by the police, leaving the crime unsolved ... until a month later, when a bizarre phone call inexplicably led to sniper case investigators descending on the Alabama crime scene and suddenly identifying Muhammad and Malvo as the sniper suspects. And at that same time, strangely enough, someone happened to stumble upon a previously undiscovered handgun that connected the unsolved crime in Alabama to two unsolved crimes in Maryland.

Just six days before the shooting in Alabama, Malvo had allegedly used the .22-caliber handgun in Maryland to shoot and rob a victim as that victim closed a liquor store. But in Alabama, although the same assailant, carrying the same gun, was allegedly seen robbing two victims who had just been shot as they closed a liquor store, he wasn't the one who actually shot them. But he was the one who carelessly dropped a .22-caliber handgun, cleverly doing so without leaving any fingerprints on it, even though he had been seen holding it. He wasn't seen, on the other hand, holding a weapons catalogue, but that isn't surprising given that a catalogue isn't the sort of thing that someone would usually bring with them to commit a robbery/homicide. Nevertheless, sniper investigators claim that they recovered from the scene, belatedly of course, a gun catalogue bearing the fingerprints of Lee Malvo.

It is interesting to note that the state's fingerprint evidence was limited to prints lifted from a few easily transportable and (with the exception of the rifle) innocuous personal items. The evidence was incriminating, in other words, only because of 
where the items were allegedly found.

In addition to the weapons catalogue allegedly recovered in Montgomery, prosecutors introduced into evidence a bag of 
Cinnaraisins that Malvo had allegedly left behind, complete with fingerprints, at one crime scene. And near the scene of the Meyers shooting, police purportedly recovered a Baltimore-area map bearing both Muhammad's and Malvo's fingerprints.

That map was the only item entered into evidence by the state that bore the defendant's fingerprints. It should go without saying that it would not be at all unusual to find a map of the local area in the vehicle of a driver who was from out of state. It also would not be unusual to find snack food wrappers and maybe a magazine or a catalogue. So if investigators had recovered such items from the Snipermobile, they would have had no real value as evidence. But if those same items somehow turn up near shooting scenes ... well, then suddenly the state has a case.

But here we are really getting ahead of ourselves. The state's physical evidence comes later. For now, we return to the witnesses.

Moving on to another uncharged homicide, the state next called witness Tina Leonard, who claimed that she saw Malvo two days after the Alabama shooting -- standing over the body of slain beauty store manager Hong Im Ballenger in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Another witness also placed Malvo at the scene. Church Deacon Henry Goins testified that Muhammad and Malvo came to his church the night of the shooting. Michael Cramer, a pathologist, offered graphic testimony and displayed grisly autopsy photos.

Los Angeles Times provided the following summation of the first week of testimony: "The jury has heard from three survivors of the shootings and seen autopsy photos of three victims. Only one witness has placed Muhammad at the scene of a shooting -- Virginia police Officer Stephen I. Bailey."

Only one witness, in other words, offered testimony relevant to establishing Muhammad's guilt for the crime that he is charged with. All the rest was just smoke and mirrors. And the prosecution team was just getting warmed up.

To be continued ...

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December 2, 2003
The DC Sniper Trial, Part II

If the second week of testimony in the DC Sniper trial proved anything, it was that prosecutors had, relatively speaking, actually exercised some restraint during the first week.

The state first wrapped up the testimony concerning the Ballenger shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ingrid Shaw, the witness mentioned previously, offered the jury the improbable scenario that the Snipermobile sat parked in the same location, across from Ballenger's shop, for at least three-and-a-half hours before the shooting, after which it promptly pulled away.

Charlene Anderson, a cousin of John Allen Muhammad, then took the stand to deliver some of the trial's most provocative testimony. Muhammad and Malvo had arrived at her Baton Rouge home last year, Anderson recalled, with a story about being on a covert military assignment. Their mission, her cousin had told her, was to recover stolen C-4 military explosives.

To most people, such stories indicate that Muhammad is either delusional, or he is a liar. It is quite possible, however, that what Muhammad told Anderson was the truth as he knew it. The pair 
were most likely part of a covert military operation. And as low-level operatives in that campaign, they certainly would not have been informed of their true mission, but would instead have been given a 'cover' story. That would be particularly true, needless to say, if their real assignment was to serve as unwitting patsies.

From the stand, Anderson claimed that Muhammad had brought with him an Army duffel bag containing what she described as a military rifle, which he had proudly showed off. Two months earlier, however, Anderson had told an investigator for the defense that she had not seen a gun during her cousin's visit.

Prosecutors next shifted the focus of the trial back to Maryland, following the alleged trail of the killers. After committing two robbery/shootings in Maryland with a .22-caliber handgun, and then detouring, for no discernible reason, to Alabama and Louisiana - where they committed two robbery/shootings with a high-powered rifle, although the assailant was seen with a handgun - the pair then purportedly ventured back to Maryland, where they began a series of random sniper killings. The state would, eventually, include in their meandering case a couple of crimes other than the Meyers shooting that were actually committed in the state of Virginia. But not quite yet.

First on prosecutors' to-do list was calling a string of witnesses to recreate for the jury the mass panic that accompanied the deaths of four sniper victims in a single morning, and a fifth before that day was over. Strangely though, prosecutors skipped over the shooting of James "Sonny" Buchanan, the first victim gunned down on October 3, 2002. Buchanan was shot at 7:41 AM, just 31 minutes before Premkumar Walekar was shot, and just 56 minutes before Sarah Ramos was shot. The Buchanan shooting was conspicuous in its absence, considering that prosecutors seemed intent on introducing evidence of as many uncharged murders as possible.

Why then was the Buchanan murder ignored (as well as the murder of James Martin, who was gunned down on October 2, 2002)? Perhaps prosecutors decided it would be best to avoid explaining to the jury how one self-styled sniper team, unfamiliar with the terrain in which they were operating, shot and killed three victims at three separate locations in under an hour -- effortlessly moving from crime scene to crime scene, quickly scouting out potential victims, instinctively finding escape routes and avoiding detection.

Witness Andrea Walekar, the daughter of victim Premkumar Walekar, was called to the stand to recall for the jury her frantic efforts to contact her father that tragic morning. She ultimately learned his fate from television reports. Pediatrician Caroline Namrov spoke of her futile, desperate efforts to save the dying man. Police Cpl. Paul Kukucka described racing to the scene, weaving through traffic, only to find the victim beyond help when he arrived.

It all made for dramatic, emotional, gut-wrenching testimony -- but none of it was relevant to determining whether John Allen Muhammad had anything to do with the shooting of Premkumar Walekar. None of the witnesses placed Muhammad, his vehicle, or his partner anywhere near the scene. According to the 
Los Angeles Times, Mary Ripple, the state medical examiner who had performed the autopsy on Walekar, provided the only tenuous link to Muhammad. Ripple informed the jury that "the .223-caliber bullet that killed [Walekar] could only have come from one Bushmaster XM-15 rifle." If so, then Ms. Ripple is a remarkably skilled medical examiner -- one who can not only identify the cause of death as a .223-caliber bullet, but can tell you exactly which firearm that bullet was fired from.

Witness Ralph Sheldon testified that he saw victim Sarah Ramos sitting on a bench at a Maryland shopping center just before he heard a shot ring out. He then saw Ramos slumped over, blood pouring from her head. Officer Cynthia Martin described arriving at the bloody scene. The medical examiner offered a graphic description of the effect that a high-velocity bullet has on the human head. As always, gruesome photos were projected on a screen to shock and repulse the jury. Ramos' husband delivered the eulogy.

Other witnesses then took the stand to offer accounts of the lives, and the tragic deaths, of victims Lori Lewis-Rivera, shot at 9:58 AM on October 3, 2002, and Pascal Charlot, shot that same evening at 9:15 PM. The names of the witnesses were new, but their testimony was hauntingly familiar.

Washington, D.C. police officer Henry Gallagher claimed from the stand that he had stopped Muhammad in the Snipermobile on that bloody day, just a few hours before the Charlot shooting. Muhammad, who was alone in the vehicle, had run two stop signs. Gallagher let him off with a warning. Four civilian witnesses claimed that they had seen the Snipermobile near shooting scenes. Makeup artist Kerry Turner said she saw the car shortly before Sarah Ramos was shot. An accountant remembered seeing it near where Lewis-Rivera was killed. And Karl Largie and Gail Howard, identified as the manager and owner of a restaurant, saw it just after Charlot was gunned down.

Witness/victim Caroline Seawell was then called to the stand to relive the harrowing experience of being shot in the back without warning on the afternoon of October 4, 2002. "I still have bullet fragments inside me," she explained to the jury. Another witness placed the Snipermobile at the scene, just minutes after the shooting.

Iran Brown, at 13 (now 14) the only child victim, took the stand to describe being shot in front of his school in Bowie, Maryland. His parents had reportedly tried to prevent the state from calling him as a witness, believing the boy would be further traumatized by the experience. His appearance was required only for the prejudicial effect that a child victim's emotional testimony would have on the jury. Iran's aunt, Tanya Brown, who had dropped her nephew off at school that day, recalled driving him to an urgent care center. Physician Martin Eichelberger spoke of treating the boy's grave wounds.

Baltimore police officer James Snyder testified that he happened upon Muhammad, sleeping in his Snipermobile, at 3:00 AM the morning after the shooting. Snyder was the third officer to tell the jury that he had stopped the Snipermobile during the first week of the shootings. Strangely enough, he was also the third officer to tell the jury that Muhammad, purportedly one-half of an inseparable team, had been alone in the car.

Where had Malvo been at 3:00 in the morning, deprived of transportation and lodging, while his master slept? And where had he been just hours before the Charlot shooting? And where had he been just after the Meyers shooting, as the Snipermobile allegedly fled the scene? According to prosecutors, Malvo had been in the trunk when Muhammad had been stopped by officer Bailey. But according to Bailey's account, that encounter occurred a half-hour after the Meyers shooting. And according to the state's case, the Snipermobile was set up to allow a shooter to quickly and surreptitiously position himself partially within the trunk to take a shot. There would have been no reason for Malvo to squirm completely into the trunk. And there was certainly no reason for him to remain there for a half-hour.

Gerald Driscoll, identified as a chiropractor, was called to offer testimony about his sighting of the Snipermobile, and its occupants, near the school where Brown was shot.  Prosecutors seemed to have no shortage of civilian witnesses who recalled seeing the dark blue Caprice lurking near crime scenes, just as they had no shortage of police witnesses who recalled encountering the vehicle, although there was never a single mention of such a car during the media circus that accompanied the killings.

Police Cpl. Charles Nelson told of finding a Tarot card bearing an ominous message about 100 yards from where Brown was shot. A police cadet claimed that he found a discarded ballpoint pen barrel about 25 feet from where that card was found. A bullet casing was found in the same area. Prosecutors promised that evidence would show that Muhammad's DNA was on the pen barrel and Malvo’s DNA was on the Tarot card. And the shell casing, to no one's surprise, would be connected to the Bushmaster rifle. If the state’s reconstruction of the crimes is accurate, however, any shell casings would have ejected into a closed trunk. It would have been all but impossible for a shell casing to have been left behind inadvertently. That key piece of evidence, therefore, had to have been left at the scene deliberately.

Nancy Demme, a police captain, took the stand to describe the panic-stricken reaction of suburban parents to the deliberate targeting of a child. Demme had, perhaps significantly, been on the job less than a month when she emerged as a key player in the sniper saga. Her testimony was, by any reasonable standard, inflammatory and irrelevant. But according to the state, Demme’s testimony was necessary to demonstrate that the intent of the crime was to terrorize society -- even though the crime that caused the fear that Demme described was not the crime that Muhammad was charged with.

Moving on to the next sniper shooting, medical examiner Deborah Kay provided a description of the massive internal injuries suffered by sniper victim Kenneth Bridges, who was shot in the back on the morning of October 11, 2002. As Kay displayed yet another series of gruesome autopsy photos, defense lawyers raised an objection -- one that had been raised and overruled repeatedly. The photos, they argued, "don't add a thing to the case. The cause of death is indisputable."

Although the judge was not swayed by that argument, the cause of death was, of course, indisputable, as it was with all of the sniper victims. There was no disagreement that each had been killed by a single bullet fired by an unseen assassin with a high-powered rifle. The only relevant question for the court to address was whether the man who stood accused was that unseen assassin.

And yet, amazingly enough, prosecutors openly declared that the answer to that question was largely irrelevant. It didn’t matter, they argued, who actually pulled the trigger. In fact, the state’s position was that Muhammad fired few, if any, of the fatal shots. Malvo was routinely credited with being the “trigger man.” Prosecutors even openly acknowledged that it was very unlikely that Muhammad shot the one victim that they charged him with shooting.

But Malvo, according to the state of Virginia's crack prosecution team, was completely under the control of Muhammad, who was, they said, a "mind controller." Malvo, they argued, was “brainwashed.” He was little more than a tool, an "instrument of death and destruction," much like the Snipermobile and the Bushmaster rifle.

That was, you see, a perfectly reasonable scenario for distinguished prosecutors to sell to a jury, and for the mainstream media to report without a hint of skepticism. But let someone suggest an only slightly different scenario, such as that 
both Malvo and Muhammad were, and still are, the “brainwashed” tools of unseen actors, and let the scoffing and the eye rolling begin. Clearly, only a 'conspiracy theorist' would suggest something so ludicrous.

The state of Virginia, by the way, while still portraying Malvo as the mindless puppet of his master, Muhammad, began selecting a jury that it hopes will convict the teenager of first-degree murder and sentence him to death. To do so, of course, the state will have to employ a different strategy entirely -- one that explicitly repudiates the very arguments that were used to justify Muhammad’s conviction. But here, yet again, we've gotten ahead of ourselves.

Christine Goodwin and Patricia Bradshaw both took the stand to insist that they saw the Snipermobile in the vicinity of the scene of the Bridges shooting. "Everything about that car," Goodwin told the jury, "was wrong." So wrong, she said, that her "first instinct" was to call the police – although she didn’t. She later heard that a man had been killed at the very gas station where she claims that she saw the Snipermobile. She waited almost two weeks to report the sighting.

Prosecutors next moved on to the shooting of Linda Franklin. William Franklin, who was with his wife when she was killed on October 11, 2002, provided both eyewitness testimony and a eulogy. A tape of his anguished 911 call was played for the jury. It was just one of many 911 tapes that prosecutors played throughout the trial, often leaving the jurors visibly shaken. Needless to say, none of those harrowing tapes provided any insight into who committed the murders that caused such anguish. The jury also viewed, along with the bereaved widower, a crime scene photo that revealed, in grisly detail, that the right side of Linda Franklin's face had been blown away.

Yet another law enforcement officer took the stand, this time to claim that she had seen Malvo driving the Snipermobile not long after the shooting, about ten miles from the scene. The officer had just left a restaurant, where she had, as she acknowledged, slammed down a few beers.

Linda Franklin, it must be noted, was a 'counter-terrorism' expert with the FBI. Her job involved keeping tabs on warnings of possible terrorist threats -- such as all those specific warnings that came in prior to September 11, 2001. Franklin was probably not, in other words, a randomly selected target.

One witness not called by the state was Matthew Dowdy, who had reported to police that he saw Franklin’s killer fire a single shot with an AK-47 rifle and then drive off in a light-colored van. A few days later, Dowdy was arrested and charged with making false and deliberately misleading statements. Those allegedly false and misleading statements, of course, pointed to a killer other than Muhammad or Malvo. It was never explained why Dowdy would deliberately try to derail a high profile, and high stakes, investigation. He quickly became a forgotten footnote to the sniper case.

Next to take the stand was Monsignor William Sullivan, who described receiving the bizarre telephone call on October 18, 2002 that allegedly led police directly to the Montgomery, Alabama shooting scene (except that Sullivan initially thought the call was a hoax, which is why he didn't report it to authorities, and which leaves open the question of why the investigation suddenly shifted to Alabama, and from there to Muhammad and Malvo). From the stand, Sullivan was not able to identify who he had spoken to on the phone that day.

The focus of the trial next shifted to the shooting of victim Jeffrey Hopper in the parking lot of a 
Ponderosa steakhouse restaurant. Hopper took the stand to provide a first-person account of being shot with a high-powered rifle. Prosecutors then presented a convoluted body of evidence that purportedly linked Muhammad to the crime.

A four-page note, enclosed in a plastic baggie, was found tacked to a tree near the scene. That note, demanding that $10 million be deposited into a credit card account, was an important element of the state's case, since it allegedly showed that Muhammad was attempting to extort money from the government, thus qualifying him as a 'terrorist.' Mark James, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, read the note aloud to the jury.

There was nothing on the note itself to link it to Muhammad or Malvo. No fingerprints, no fibers, no hairs. But on the 
baggie, incredibly enough, investigators recovered Malvo's DNA. It's a good thing then that the pair decided to slip the note into the baggie. They also apparently decided to deliberately leave behind another shell casing. And, according to deputy James Sizemore, a bag of Cinna-raisins that yielded Malvo's fingerprints.

According to the testimony of Sheriff's deputy Drew Darby, the paper and the stickers that had been used to create the note, and the baggie that held the note, were only sold at the Ashland 
Big Lots store, which was just two miles from the Ponderosa steakhouse. A short, grainy video clip from a Big Lots' surveillance camera was aired. Prosecutors argued, though apparently not convincingly, that Muhammad's image was captured on that tape.

Meanwhile, Jill Lynn Farell, the owner of the credit card referenced in the note, testified that the card had been stolen from her in March 2002 while she was driving a Greyhound bus in the state of Arizona. It is unclear exactly how her testimony tied the stolen credit card to Muhammad.

That about wrapped up the second week of the DC Sniper trial. The 
L.A. Times, in summing up the testimony to that point, observed that prosecutors had "designed a strategy both understated and graphic. In voices etched with heartbreak, loved ones recall the dead. Old snapshots of the victims are shown, brimming with life, then contrasted with grisly crime scene and morgue photos."

While the state's presentation had certainly been graphic, the only thing that had been "understated" had been the evidence tying the defendant, John Allen Muhammad, to the string of uncharged murders. Lost in the blizzard of emotionally-charged testimony was the fact that prosecutors had failed to credibly implicate Muhammad in any of the uncharged shootings. The best the state could do was to repeatedly trot out witnesses who had belatedly come forward to report sightings of the Snipermobile.

As the 
L.A. Times acknowledged, "Not all of the sightings are equally credible." Cited as an example was chiropractor Gerald Driscoll, who told the jury a riveting tale of staring down Muhammad and Malvo, only to have his story fall apart almost immediately under cross-examination. As it turned out, Driscoll had a history of reporting bogus sightings.

No one in all of medialand seems to have questioned why, with the insurmountable case they were said to have, prosecutors were so desperate to tie the defendant to a particular crime scene that they turned to an obviously bogus witness. And no one seems to have asked how many other credibility-challenged witnesses the state propped up. And no one, I might add, seems to be familiar with the term "suborning perjury."

Not to beat a dead horse here, but not a single witness called during the week provided testimony concerning the murder that Muhammad was charged with. Not one. After spending two weeks parading dozens of witnesses before the jury, the state had still only established, through the dubious testimony of just one of those witnesses, that Muhammad was very near the murder scene 30 minutes after the crime was committed.

The third week of the trial kicked off with testimony concerning the murder of Conrad Johnson. Denise Johnson, the bereaved widow, described frantically trying to ascertain her husband's status. As she recalled for the jury that she had rushed to the hospital but had not gotten a chance to say goodbye, the defense team objected on the grounds that the testimony was inflammatory and irrelevant -- which of course it was.

Medical examiner Mary Ripple took the stage to batter jurors once again with yet more gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos. Her testimony was also inflammatory and irrelevant.

Prosecutors again entered into evidence images captured by surveillance cameras, this time from an 
Outback steakhouse. The Outback cameras captured recognizable images of Muhammad, but the images succeeded only in placing the suspect within a few miles of the Johnson shooting scene, and on the night before the crime was committed.

Investigators claimed that yet another note was recovered from the scene, once again enclosed in a plastic baggie. Once again, the note itself yielded no incriminating evidence, but once again Malvo foolishly left his DNA on the baggie. In addition, Muhammad left behind a duffel bag sprinkled with his DNA.

The state next called witness Whitney Donahue, who told the jury the bizarre tale of the tip that led to the capture and arrest of Muhammad and Malvo. It was Donahue who placed the 911 call to report that the Snipermobile was parked in a roadside rest stop, just hours after Chief Charles Moose delivered his cryptic message to the sniper suspects. Donahue testified that he remained on the line for nearly three hours; from 12:47 AM until 3:30 AM, he said, he provided periodic updates while he awaited the arrival of officers.

Donahue didn't seem concerned that he had been left alone for nearly three hours, as an unarmed private citizen, to provide surveillance on a team of deadly assassins. And no one covering the trial, of course, found it unusual that it took officers nearly three hours to show up after being notified of the whereabouts of the most wanted, and allegedly most dangerous, man in the country.

What could possibly explain such a lengthy delay? Apparently authorities needed time to insure that they had just the right team assembled to take the suspects into custody and, uhmm, 'recover' any evidence from the suspects' vehicle. Selected for the task, by Supervising Agent Gary Bald, was an elite, and rarely used, FBI hostage rescue team.

The Snipermobile yielded a treasure trove of incriminating evidence that, along with DNA and ballistics evidence, made up the physical component of the state's case. The improbability of most of the physical evidence nicely complimented the irrelevancy of most of the witness testimony, as we shall see in the next installment, when this story really begins to get interesting ...

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December 8, 2003
The DC Sniper Trial, Part III

[Reader response to this series of newsletters has been decidedly mixed. Some of you have written to offer thanks. Others have wondered, as did one recent letter writer, why I am "so distracted by this obvious distraction." To those readers, I pose the following question: Do you honestly believe that court proceedings that successfully erased the line between crime and 'terrorism,' establishing the legal precedent that domestic criminals can be labeled 'terrorists' and treated accordingly, is just a distraction? Or have you perhaps mistaken John Allen Muhammad for Michael Jackson?]

The legendary Bushmaster rifle was purportedly found behind the hinged rear seat of the Snipermobile, but there are lingering questions about exactly how, and when, ownership of that weapon transferred from
Bullseye Shooter Supply to John Allen Muhammad. Since that rifle has been referred to as "the most important silent witness in this case," those questions are begging for answers -- answers that were not provided by any of the evidence introduced by the state.

When investigators recovered the rifle, it was loaded and the safety was disengaged, but whoever had loaded it and disengaged the safety had done so without leaving prints on the weapon. Muhammad's prints were not found on either the rifle or the detached telescopic sight. Charles Colman of the BATFE claimed that Malvo's prints were lifted from the rifle, but those prints were from a position on the gun inconsistent with him having loaded or fired it.

Brendan Shea, a DNA expert for the FBI, testified that although Muhammad's fingerprints were not found on the rifle, his DNA was. According to Shea, Muhammad's DNA was likely on the rifle's scope as well. That isn't surprising, I suppose, since Muhammad appears to have left his DNA everywhere; according to the 
L.A. Times, "Muhammad's DNA was recovered at several murder scenes [according to] law enforcement technicians."

Media reports made little mention of the purported DNA evidence. No explanation was given for how Muhammad managed to carelessly leave his DNA scattered over crime scenes. There is no indication that investigators recovered any blood, saliva or other bodily fluids. None of Muhammad's hairs were recovered. So where did the alleged DNA come from? Was Muhammad some sort of modern-day Johnny Appleseed who happily sprinkled individual strands of his DNA wherever he went?

Malvo allegedly left a hair behind, at a location where artifacts of a crime were found. The bank bags that had been stolen from victim Paul LaRuffa were, not unlike the handgun in Alabama, discovered a full month after the crime was committed. Along with the bags was, inexplicably, a shirt that contained the hair. The hair was not on the bank bags themselves, mind you, but on the shirt that was 
with the bags ... the shirt that was with the bags that were found, oddly enough, in the woods directly behind the law offices of Virginia State Senator Thomas V. Miller.

Investigators discovered that a notch had been cut in the trunk of the Snipermobile, and that notch, together with the hinged rear seat, constituted what police creatively described as a "mobile sniper's nest." Stuffed inside that notch, experts testified, was a glove -- and that glove, believe it or not, matched another glove that happened to have been found just two days earlier at the scene of the Johnson murder.
Holy OJ, Batman! I think we've heard this one before! Somebody get "Mr. Johnnie" on the phone! If it doesn't fit, they must acquit!

Recovered from a shelf above the rear seat of the Caprice were a number of books, including a copy of 
Black Power and two copies of The Tao of Health, Sex and Longevity. There was no mention of any copies of The Catcher in the Rye.

Also allegedly recovered from the Snipermobile were ammunition, a pair of walkie-talkies, an electronic Global Positioning System, and a notebook computer that had been stolen from victim Paul LaRuffa. FBI computer experts testified that that computer, in addition to linking Muhammad to the LaRuffa shooting, provided investigators with an incriminating electronic trail. John Hair of the FBI informed the jury that maps of six of the sniper shooting sites were marked with a skull and crossbones icon.

Those files, of course, could have been created by anyone. They could have been created by, for instance, an FBI computer expert. Hair claimed that the files were created by a user identified as "L." That user was identified elsewhere on the computer as "Muhammad" -- although that would, one would think, defeat the whole purpose of using the pseudonym. There were no fingerprints recovered from the computer.

Muhammad and Malvo, it should be noted, did not know that they were facing imminent arrest, and they were reportedly sleeping when taken into custody. It would seem then that they had neither reason nor opportunity to wipe away incriminating fingerprints, and yet neither of the two items that prosecutors maintained most directly tied the defendant to the crimes bore his fingerprints, even though both were allegedly recovered from his car, and both were purportedly handled frequently.

Of all the witnesses called to present the physical evidence in the case, perhaps the most dubious of the bunch (excluding, I suppose, the FBI genetic specialist who reportedly insisted that tiny insect carcasses placed Muhammad and Malvo at one of the crime scenes) was Walter A. Dandridge, Jr. of the BATFE.

Dandridge claimed that he was able to determine that the bullets from eleven of the sniper shootings, as well as the shootings in Alabama and Louisiana, were fired from the Bushmaster rifle allegedly found behind the hinged rear seat of the Snipermobile, "to the exclusion of all other firearms." And Dandridge was able to make that determination despite the fact that, as he acknowledged, most of those bullets, which impacted at a velocity of about 2,000 mph, were reduced to shredded fragments.

Not to be deterred, Dandridge managed to match each of the individual 
fragments to the Bushmaster rifle. Every one of them. That, at least, is what he claimed: "I was able to determine that each of the bullets and bullet fragments were fired from the same firearm." The markings, he said, "were identical from one scene to the next scene to the next scene." In addition to making those bold proclamations, according to theL.A. Times, "Dandridge melded his clinical expertise with the emotional core of the sniper case, slowly reciting the names of the dead."

When your scientific evidence is in doubt, it is always good to throw in an emotional appeal.

Challenged by the defense (albeit not very aggressively) on the improbability of matching so many shredded bullet fragments, Dandridge responded, bizarrely, that he was able to detect on those fragments a "sufficient duplication of random patterns."

According to a police spokesman who appeared on an 
A&E Special Report that first aired last year, investigators suspected after the first five or six shootings that a high-powered rifle was being used, but they were not sure. They were unable, in other words, to initially determine the type or caliber of ammunition being used -- and yet a year later, Dandridge was able to definitively state that each and every bullet fragment was a remnant of a .223-caliber round fired by a single Bushmaster rifle.

BATFE chemist Edward Bender took the stand to testify that he discovered residue that strongly indicated that a gun had been fired inside the trunk of the Snipermobile. Unmentioned by prosecutors, or defense attorneys, is that FBI and Justice Department documents easily obtained by the 
Associated Press reveal that the federal government has known for more than ten years that Bender is an open racist, well known for his frequent use of such favored terms as "jungle bunnies" and "niggers." Bender avoided repercussions for his conduct at the FBI when he was conveniently transferred to the BATFE, which, I guess, is more tolerant of such things. Holy OJ again, Batman! First, we had a pair of matched gloves neatly connecting the perpetrator to the crime scene, and now we find that a key prosecution witness has a fondness for using the "N" word! Maybe someone should look into whether Mark Fuhrman has an alibi for the morning that Muhammad and Malvo were arrested.

The same FBI and Justice Department documents also reveal that Bender is known to have "sloppy" work habits that call into question the integrity of his findings, given the potential for contamination.
Associated Press reporters provided Muhammad's defense team with the documentation of Bender's racism and questionable work habits, but Shapiro and Greenspun declined to comment. They also apparently opted not to use the evidence to impeach the witness.

On Thursday of the third week, prosecutors rolled a full-sized replica of the Snipermobile's trunk into the courtroom, more for dramatic effect than anything else. The jury was then, according to the 
Baltimore Sun, treated to a one-minute videotape "that showed two police officers the approximate size of Muhammad and Malvo getting into the actual Caprice. On the video, the officer representing Muhammad climbs into the back seat, pulls up the back seat, which is hinged at the top, and crawls into the trunk. A rifle similar to the Bushmaster was placed in the trunk, and the officer grabbed the rifle, pointed it through the hole in the trunk and fired. The video ends with a puff of smoke coming from the trunk."

Nice touch. The video did not reveal, of course, if the Muhammad surrogate was able to actually hit anything firing from such an awkward position, and with such limited visibility.

Prosecutors finished out the week by calling witnesses from Washington state who were questioned about the level of control that Muhammad exerted over Malvo, but the witnesses had other interesting recollections to share with the jury as well.

Albert Archer, the director of a homeless mission where Muhammad frequently stayed, testified that throughout his thirty-one years as director of the institution, Muhammad was the only resident to have his own travel agent. Archer grew so suspicious of Muhammad's frequent travels that he reported him to the FBI in October 2001, a year before the sniper shootings.

Robert Holmes, an Army buddy of Muhammad's from Tacoma, testified that Muhammad had pointedly introduced Malvo to him as "a sniper." Holmes also said that he saw the Bushmaster rifle in Muhammad's possession. His buddy, Holmes claimed, had spoken to him about the damage that the rifle could do, and he had made at least two failed attempts at fashioning a silencer for it. Muhammad also, Holmes recalled, frequently took his young partner out to the shooting range.

Holmes informed the jury that he had reported his suspicions about Muhammad after the shooting of Linda Franklin. On October 15, 2002, he said, he had first called the FBI to inform them that John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, a self-described sniper team, were traveling together in the Washington, D.C. area, armed with a scope-equipped Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle. Having received that tip, FBI agents would have, presumably, run Muhammad's name and quickly discovered that he had been stopped by police at the scene of a shooting just a week before. It is rather odd then, to say the least, that Muhammad did not become a suspect in the case for another full week; according to Chief Moose, Muhammad and Malvo did not become "potential suspects of interest" until the afternoon of October 23, just hours before they were arrested.

On Monday, November 10, prosecutors called a few witnesses whose testimony was intended to emphasize the public fear provoked by the shootings. After that, the state rested. Prosecutors had questioned over one hundred witnesses and introduced more than 400 evidence exhibits. But none of the testimony and none of the exhibits, as the state reluctantly conceded, indicated that John Allen Muhammad fired the shot that killed the one man whose murder he was charged with.

When court resumed on Wednesday (Tuesday was Veteran's Day), Judge Millette first ruled on a motion to strike the death penalty. Defense attorneys had entered the motion on Monday, arguing that the state had not met its burden. Millette sided with prosecutors. In announcing his decision, the neutral arbiter of justice commented:
"The inference that can be drawn is that [Lee Boyd] Malvo and Mr. Muhammad were involved in not random shootings but a purposeful series of shootings leading up to the extortion demands ... A fair inference can be drawn that they perfected their ability to shoot people, and perfected their ability to shoot them and escape."
Judge Millette, it appears, is not comfortable with the use of the word "allegedly."

Following that predictable ruling, the jury was brought in and it was the defense team's turn to step up to the plate. Shapiro and Greenspun called five witnesses, introduced into evidence a handful of photographs -- and then called it a day. Spectators were stunned. With their client's life clearly on the line, the crack defense team rested after just two-and-a-half hours.

Legal pundits offered any number of rationalizations and apologias for the failure to mount a defense, but the reality was that Muhammad was clearly sold out by his defense team (thus illustrating, it should be noted, the defendant's initial wisdom in choosing to represent himself; it is unclear why he later reversed that decision).

The almost complete lack of a defense might be somewhat more understandable had the defense team challenged the state's case as it was being presented. But that didn't happen. As Greenspun acknowledged, "We asked few or no questions of most of the witnesses. It just would have been inappropriate to cross-examine many of these people."

Greenspun was certainly correct in that assessment. What he should have added, however, was that it was not only inappropriate to cross-examine most of the state's witnesses, it was inappropriate for prosecutors to have called them as witnesses in the first place, and it was inappropriate for the judge to have allowed them to be called. Most of the witnesses offered testimony that was rich in prejudicial value, but completely devoid of probative value, so there was nothing to challenge them on through cross-examination.

But that does not excuse the defense team from presenting a rigorous defense of their client, especially given that the state's case was built entirely on a house of cards. But that, perhaps, was precisely why 'defense' attorneys avoided posing any direct challenge to the case assembled by prosecutors, choosing instead to call a few token witnesses to knock down a few straw men.

Jade Bolling, a motel manager, testified that on the night of October 23, 2002, she threw Malvo out of a room in her motel that he hadn't paid for. She escorted him all the way out to the street, she recalled, and never saw Muhammad (the two were arrested together just hours later). Bolling's testimony was supposed to challenge the notion that the sniper team was inseparable -- but that was of questionable value considering that an overwhelming majority of the state's own witnesses had reported seeing the suspects separately, including all of the police officers called as witnesses.

Private investigator John Nenna cast doubt on some of the civilian sightings of the Snipermobile, particularly the claims made by Gerald Driscoll and Patricia Bradshaw. But those witnesses had largely discredited themselves already.

There were, to be sure, any number of things that the defense 
could have done. They could have called an independent ballistics expert to challenge the ridiculous claims made by Dandridge. They could have called an independent DNA expert to challenge the state's phantom DNA evidence. They could have called an independent chemist to challenge the claims made by Bender. And while they were at it, they could have subpoenaed officials from the Justice Department to discuss how Bender's findings were tainted by his racism and sloppy work habits. They could have retained the services of a few professionally trained snipers to test the theory that a human target could be reliably picked off from hundreds of yards away with a shot fired through a notch in the trunk of a Caprice. They could have called, because he might have had an interesting story to tell, Matthew Dowdy. They could have called the owner of Bull's Eye Shooter Supply, Brian Borgelt, to have him explain how the Bushmaster rifle, and more than two hundred other weapons, disappeared from his store in just the last two years. They could have hired an independent computer expert to take a look at Paul LaRuffa's notebook.

The defense team could have, in other words, actually defended their client. But they chose not to. They also chose not to call as a witness the man who played a starring role during the sniper shootings, and yet was strangely absent from Judge Millette's courtroom: Chief Charles Moose. 

  • "Chief Moose, I have a few questions for you that, admittedly, are not directly relevant to these proceedings, but since prosecutors have opened the door to soliciting irrelevant testimony, and since we have you under oath, I really have to ask: Are you absolutely certain that you and the defendant, John Allen Muhammad, never crossed paths during the two years (1994-1995) that the two of you were assigned to the same Oregon Air National Guard Base in Portland?"
  • "As the commander since May 2000 of the D.C. Air National Guard's security forces squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, tasked with protecting and maintaining a fleet of F-16 fighter jets, do you have any thoughts that you would like to share with us today on why none of those fighter jets were scrambled in response to the 'terrorist' attacks of September 11, 2001?"
  • "We understand that the Ph.D. program that you attended at Portland State University was largely funded by a controversial multi-million dollar grant from the Turkish government. We also understand that one of the professors in that Ph.D. program was a self-described former Islamic terrorist. After receiving your Ph.D. (and rather quickly, we might add), we understand that you were appointed chief of the Portland Police Department by Mayor Vera Katz, whose former intern, October Martinique Lewis, was just sentenced to a three-year prison term for her involvement with an allegedly pro-Taliban, Portland 'sleeper cell.' Could you please clarify for us, Chief Moose, whether you have ever been involved in any U.S. government-sponsored covert operations aimed at manufacturing phantom enemies through the creation of 'Islamic terrorist cells'? And if so, could you tell us if John Allen Muhammad was similarly involved in such operations?" 
Richard Conway delivered the state's closing argument. He instructed the jury to recall the testimony of Spicer (the sniper). "It takes two," Conway intoned, "It comprises one deadly killing machine, but it takes two." Court reporters continued not to notice the incongruity of prosecutors' repeated assertions that two equals one, and the fact that the state chose to prosecute Muhammad and Malvo separately.

Greenspun closed for the defense. During his two hour monologue, he reportedly conceded that he could see how the jury might convict his client of murder, but not, he argued, of capital murder. Needless to say, with his own attorney arguing for conviction, Muhammad's chances for an acquittal were seriously diminished.

But Judge Millette apparently did not think that the deck had been sufficiently stacked -- so he proceeded to deliver jury instructions that were wildly inappropriate and obviously designed to virtually guarantee a conviction. Millette told the jury that in order to convict, they need not find that Muhammad had actually pulled the trigger, only that he was an "immediate perpetrator." And in a surprisingly open acknowledgment that prosecutors had failed to credibly link the Bushmaster rifle to the defendant, Millette instructed the jury that they could consider the 
Snipermobile to be a murder weapon! The operative strategy seemed to have been: if you can't link the defendant to the murder weapon, then find something that you can link him to, and then declare whatever that is to be the murder weapon.

And with those instructions, the jury was sent off to begin deliberations, and then excused for the day just fifteen minutes later. The next day was a Friday, which meant it was a half-day in Judge Millette's courtroom. The jury spent the four hours deliberating. By the end of the half-day, Millette was already growing impatient, as was evident in his request to the attorneys: "If we could get this thing done by Thanksgiving, I'd appreciate it."

Since on Millette's calendar the Thanksgiving holiday apparently begins on Tuesday rather than Thursday, the judge was allocating exactly five-and-a-half court days for the jury to finish deliberating Muhammad's guilt, and for the state and the defense to then present their respective cases in the penalty phase of the trial, and for both sides to deliver their closing arguments, and for the jury to then deliberate the apparently trivial issue of whether John Allen Muhammad should be executed by the state of Virginia.

Los Angeles Times reported that Millette "hinted Friday that he expected a swift verdict, telling jurors they could go all day -- 'if you need that much time.'" He did not add, although he may as well have, "Come on, people! Can't you all see how guilty this guy is?"

Millette's message apparently got through; after just two-and-a-half hours of additional deliberations on Monday morning, the jury reached a verdict. In just six-and-a-half hours, they had reviewed over 400 exhibits and the testimony of over 100 witnesses. Not bad for (not quite) a day's work.

Muhammad, to the surprise of no one, was found guilty on all counts.

(In the final installment: strangeness in the jury room, sentencing, curious parallels, and what it all means.)

_/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/ _/

December 31, 2003
The DC Sniper Trial, Part IV

After a lunch break, John Allen Muhammad's trial moved immediately into the penalty phase. Judge Millette began the proceedings by issuing yet another unusual ruling; according to the Baltimore Sun, "Millette, Jr. ruled that prosecutors would be allowed to introduce so-called 'victim impact testimony' only from the family of Dean H. Meyers."

In other words, after allowing everything under the sun into the guilt phase of the trial, the judge was now going to limit prejudicial testimony in the penalty phase to the actual crime that Muhammad was charged with. Can you say "Bizarro World"?

Millette's decision was touted by the media as a huge victory for the defense team -- indeed, the first significant ruling to go its way. Prosecutors were said to be crestfallen -- but only until they remembered that they had already introduced 'victim impact testimony' concerning at least a dozen uncharged murders during the guilt phase of the trial.

In truth, Millette's ruling was no gift to the defense; it was an acknowledgment that prosecutors had already presented the penalty phase of their case. Conway acknowledged that as well when he responded to the judge's ruling by explicitly instructing jurors that everything they had already heard was now "fair game."

In addition to everything they had already heard, the state had prepared a bombshell to drop on the unsuspecting jury: if the sniper team had not been stopped, prosecutors solemnly informed them, the jurors would have been the pair's next victims. According to returning witness John Hair of the FBI, the stolen notebook computer (that vast reservoir of incriminating evidence) revealed that three specific locations in the Hampton Roads area had been identified as future targets. The trial, it will be recalled, had been moved to Hampton Roads - 200 miles from the nearest shooting scene, but just a stone's throw from the Naval Air Station Oceana - specifically because it was in an area of the state that was not directly affected by the shootings.

Although it was Hair's testimony that most visibly affected the jury, the most provocative witness called by the state was Navy gunner Earl Lee Dancy of Tacoma, Washington. Dancy, it turns out, is the previously unidentified witness who implicated Muhammad in both a murder and an attack on a Jewish temple.

On the stand, Dancy contradicted himself frequently and was caught in several lies. He testified that he had allowed Muhammad and Malvo to stay at his home, with ready access to his guns, for several weeks in early 2002, but he offered no credible reason for doing so. He admitted that he had given widely varying accounts of his relationship with Muhammad to various law enforcement officers. He admitted lying to authorities on a number of occasions about a rifle that he claimed that he had bought for Muhammad. He denied that he had ever pawned a gun, until he was confronted with the evidence, at which time he admitted to having pawned at least nine guns. He acknowledged, when asked directly, that he was a liar.

What makes all of this rather odd is that it was Dancy's guns that were purportedly used in at least two crimes, one of them the murder of a young Tacoma woman. And yet it is not Earl Dancy who stands publicly accused of the crimes, it is John Muhammad, even though the only evidence against Muhammad appears to be the testimony of an admitted liar who can't keep his story straight and who has a vested interest in pinning the crimes on someone other than himself. Go figure.

On Thursday, November 20, after defense attorneys had presented another abbreviated case on behalf of their client, the state's and the defense's closing statements were delivered. Prosecutor Paul Ebert then handled the state's final rebuttal argument, which consisted largely of once again displaying photos of the victims both in life and in death.

The jury, after being improperly instructed, began deliberating the next day. Since it was a Friday, court was adjourned at around 1:00 PM, right after Judge Millette fielded two remarkably revealing queries from jurors. Neither received much more than a passing mention in press reports.

Shortly after 12:30 PM, Millette received a note from a juror that read: "If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, what happens then?" As a few reporters noted, the judge did not answer the question directly. Instead, he spoke of the time that had been invested in the trial, and he emphasized that "we really want to try to get a unanimous decision. You have all weekend to think about it."

If the judge had bothered to answer the question directly, he would have instructed the jury that a unanimous decision was only required to hand down a death sentence; anything short of a unanimous decision would result in the imposition of the default sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Amazingly enough, the jury had not been given that most basic of jury instructions. And even more amazingly, when asked directly for the instructions that should have already been provided, Judge Millette gave a response that strongly implied that a failure to reach a unanimous decision would result in a hung jury, when the truth was that if the jury was in fact 'hung,' then the jurors had already reached a verdict.

Millette instructed the jury to continue deliberating as long as was necessary to reach a unanimous decision -- in other words, to continue deliberating until they could return with a recommendation of death. He told jurors they had all day Monday, and even Tuesday (which had previously been announced as the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday), to continue deliberating.

After that curious exchange, jury foreman Jerry Haggerty was quick to assure the judge - and more importantly, the media - that the question was based merely on curiosity and did not reflect a division within the jury. That wasn't quite true; it was later revealed by the L.A. Times that "during a straw poll Friday ... several [jurors] had leaned toward sparing Muhammad's life." Did I mention, by the way, that Haggerty is a retired Navy captain and judge advocate?

After Judge Millette had fielded the first question, he received another, possibly even more revealing, question from an unidentified female juror, who inquired, incredibly enough, whether she could do some research on her own over the weekend. Told that she could not - that her decision was to be based solely on evidence presented in court - she nevertheless persisted in asking for permission to pursue outside sources, explaining that she intended to research other death penalty cases.

Despite the fact that the juror had clearly signaled that she intended to base her decision at least in part on materials obtained outside the courtroom, there was no request by either team of attorneys to have the juror removed and replaced with one of the three alternate jurors, nor was there any request to have the jury sequestered for the duration of the deliberations.

That in itself was rather odd. Perhaps even odder was that the woman had been seated on the jury despite the fact that she had openly expressed reservations about capital punishment during the juror selection process, and despite the fact that prosecutor Ebert's primary litmus test for prospective jurors had been that they be willing, even eager, to impose a death sentence.

Did I mention, by the way, that the juror who posed the question was identified in one press report as a "former Naval intelligence officer"? And did I mention that, given her current employment at the Center for Naval Analysis, the 'former' part of that identification is debatable?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, perhaps, the juror was a 'plant' (as was, most likely, the jury foreman). The unnamed female juror's job was to feign initial opposition to capital punishment so that when she later voted in favor of imposing it, she could hopefully sway other jurors to do likewise. Her question to the judge, coming just after the other juror's question, seemed to be a pretty clear signal that there were problems in the jury room -- specifically, the state had failed to sway several jurors and fresh arguments were needed to bring them into line.

The jury, incidentally, was seated in record time given both the magnitude of the charges and the wholesale contamination of the jury pool. The fifteen panel members (twelve jurors and three alternates) were selected from a pool of only 123 prospective jurors in just three-and-a-half days. By way of comparison, it took seven weeks to seat the jury that heard the evidence against the 'Unabomber,' who was similarly accused of committing a series of impersonal murders across several states.

With no more questions forthcoming, Muhammad's jury was dismissed for the day. Judge Millette then stepped down from the bench to congratulate the opposing attorneys, offering the following words to Ebert (who headed what the judge referred to as the "dream team," and who had been Millette's boss from 1986 to 1990): "Best job you've ever done, Paul." Greenspun then received the following accolade: "You exceeded even my expectations."

It is unclear exactly what "expectations" Millette was referring to, but it certainly couldn't have been his "expectations" that Greenspun would aggressively defend his client.

It is difficult to say exactly what transpired during the weekend break from deliberations, but after assembling for just ninety minutes on the following Monday morning, the previously divided jury returned with a unanimous request that the state of Virginia execute John Allen Muhammad. Formal sentencing was set for February 12, 2004, when Judge Millette will formally impose the sentence recommended by the jury.

According to the L.A. Times, one juror who changed his mind over the weekend, Dennis Bowman, could "cit[e] no clear cut reason" for doing so. Juror Heather Best-Teague offered this seemingly contradictory explanation: "I can't say we're all good with the decision, but we knew we made the right one."

Paul Ebert hailed the decision, reached after just five-and-a-half hours, as a "victory for society." Muhammad, he said, is "the kind of man that doesn't deserve to be in society." In the world that Ebert inhabits, there are apparently a lot of people who don't deserve to be in society: Muhammad is the thirteenth man that he has personally sent to Death Row, making him the state's most prolific serial killer/prosecutor.

As jurors return to their lives and jobs, John Muhammad will find himself on a fast track to the execution chamber. Virginia trails only Texas in the pace of executions. The average time from sentencing to execution - four years - is half the national average. And the state doesn't shy away from executing juvenile defendants. Those are some of the very reasons that John Ashcroft hand-picked Virginia as the state where Muhammad and Malvo would answer for their alleged crimes, even though ten of the thirteen sniper victims were shot in Maryland. Ashcroft also hand-picked the prosecutors, whom he described as "seasoned and highly respected."

Behind the scenes, the change of venue for the trial was likely hand-picked as well. In addition to guaranteeing a jury pool teeming with Naval intelligence types, the move insured that there would be no public viewing of the trial. The courtroom reportedly had only 53 seats, including the ten seats occupied by the prosecution and defense teams. Most of the rest were filled by victim's family members and media representatives (who were likely also hand-picked). Only five seats were set aside for the public. All cameras were banned from the courtroom, save for a closed-circuit feed to a press room.

Judge Millette was probably hand-picked as well, which would explain why he continued to helm the trial after it was moved 200 miles away from the original venue. Judge Millette, incidentally, was the jurist who once presided over the trial of John "how many of those patches will I need to get it to grow back?" Bobbitt. In separate proceedings, Paul Ebert was the prosecutor who failed to convict his spouse, Lorena Bobbitt. Defense attorney Greenspun had his own brush with notoriety when he defended Marv Albert on sodomy charges in 1997. More tellingly, his partner Shapiro is currently representing Brian Regan, a retired Air Force sergeant accused of being a spy. And Robert Horan, who was hand-picked by Ashcroft to handle the prosecution of Malvo, spearheaded the prosecution of the man who was recently executed for allegedly opening fire outside CIA headquarters in 1993. Needless to say, it takes a very special kind of attorney to handle cases of that nature.

* * * * * * * * *

There has been almost no critical media analysis of the Muhammad trial. At only one point during the proceedings was any outrage expressed by legal commentators, and that outrage wasn't over Judge Millette's questionable rulings, or his wholesale admission of prejudicial evidence, or his inappropriate jury instructions; it was over the fact that Muhammad insisted on exercising his constitutional right to represent himself.

Leading the charge in insisting that Muhammad be denied that most basic of rights was Alan Dershowitz. There was too much at stake, wrote Dershowitz, to allow such "foolishness." Allowing Muhammad to defend himself, the pundit argued, was tantamount to "bestowing on defendants a constitutional right to commit suicide."

But was it really the defendant's potential failure to mount an adequate defense that Dershowitz was concerned with? Could Muhammad have possibly done a worse job defending himself than his appointed attorneys? That hardly seems likely. In fact, despite a number of press reports to the contrary, Muhammad performed quite capably during his very brief career as an attorney. The Baltimore Sun reported that, despite having "no formal legal training, Muhammad vigorously questioned witnesses and argued legal technicalities." He also "proved able during several sharp cross-examinations." Judge Millette acknowledged that Muhammad "appears to be competently representing himself, he appears to be asking the appropriate questions, and he appears to understand everything that's going on."

Perhaps, then, what really concerned Dershowitz and his fellow opinion-shapers was the possibility that even an untrained attorney could perform capably enough to expose the fraud being perpetrated by the state. Dershowitz, by the way, penned a book on the theft of the 2000 presidential election, thereby reaffirming his 'liberal' credentials, and then just months later used his bully pulpit to loudly and cravenly promote the liberal cause of allowing the illegitimate new administration to institutionalize the use of torture on 'terrorist' suspects.

One question that remains unanswered is why Muhammad - who had been quite insistent that he be allowed to defend himself, and who was quite animated during his brief stint as an attorney - suddenly reversed his decision and thereafter sat silent and expressionless throughout the remainder of the trial, offering no protest over his defense team's failure to mount an actual defense.

Perhaps the answer can be found in the fact that Muhammad was held in isolation throughout the trial, denied contact with both visitors and other inmates. His only contact was with his captors and with members of his 'defense' team. His current mental status is, therefore, unknown. All mental health testimony was barred from trial, denying jurors any plausible explanation of how a 42-year-old man with no history of violence (except for the officially sanctioned violence performed at the behest of Uncle Sam) suddenly transformed himself into a 'serial killer.' The judge's barring of all such testimony was purportedly prompted by Muhammad's refusal to be examined by the state's experts -- a refusal that was, perhaps, quite understandable. But there is little reason to believe that the defense's 'experts' weren't cut from the same cloth.

Muhammad's ex-wife testified that his behavior changed dramatically after his participation in 'Operation Desert Storm.' He was never, she said, quite the same after that. So if we are to accept that Muhammad was in fact the DC Sniper, then should we not be asking a question that no one at trial, and no one in the media, bothered to ask: how many John Allen Muhammads will be coming home from Iraq this time?

Vietnam gave us such notorious 'serial killers' as Leonard Lake (whose Wilseyville, California property yielded the butchered and buried remains of as many as 25 victims), Arthur Shawcross (who claimed to have had 39 confirmed kills in Vietnam, and 12 more in the States), and, indirectly, Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez (who was mentored by a cousin who returned from Vietnam with eight shrunken human heads and an extensive collection of grisly Polaroids depicting the brutal rape, torture, murder and mutilation of his Vietnamese victims).

How many men conditioned to kill, and to enjoy killing, will be coming home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

* * * * * * * * *

Parallels to the Muhammad prosecution abound in the 'serial killer' literature. Ebert's strategy, for example, borrowed heavily from Vincent Bugliosi's prosecution of California's most famous inmate, Charles Milles Manson (Bugliosi, by the way, also penned a book on the theft of the 2000 election) .

As some readers will recall, Charlie Manson did not actually kill any of the victims whose murders he was charged with. In fact, prosecutors acknowledged that Manson was not even at the scenes of the crimes when the murders were committed. And yet he was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death (later commuted by a Supreme Court decision) based on the state's contention that those who did commit the murders were completely under Charlie's control.

Just as the state of Virginia has done with Lee Boyd Malvo, the state of California prosecuted, and sought death sentences for, Charlie's followers, even though, by the state's own arguments, the actual killers could not control (and therefore should not be held legally responsible for) their actions. And in both Virginia and California, although brainwashing/mind-control was an explicit aspect of the state's case, no one ever publicly questioned whether the alleged puppeteer could himself be a puppet.

Ebert's strategy also borrowed liberally from the prosecutions of 'serial killers' Albert DeSalvo, Wayne Williams, and Bobby Joe Long, each of whom were convicted based primarily on the wholesale admission of prejudicial evidence of uncharged crimes.

Popular mythology holds that Wayne Williams was convicted of the "Atlanta Child Murders." In reality, however, Williams was never charged with, let alone convicted of, the murder of a single child -- for the simple reason that the state of Georgia had no case. Williams was brought to trial for the murder of two adults, but the state did not have much of a case to support those charges either. To compensate for the lack of an actual case, prosecutors successfully muddied the waters and inflamed the jury by introducing evidence of no fewer than ten uncharged child homicides. Georgia Supreme Court Justice George Smith later commented that Williams assumed an “unenviable position as a defendant who, charged with two murders, was forced to defend himself as to 12 separate killings.”

Consider also the case of the lesser known Bobby Joe Long. Charged with committing a string of brutal serial murders of women, and also with committing a prolific string of concurrent, but unrelated, serial rapes, Long faced a lengthy series of trials in the state of Florida, all of which were deeply flawed. One of his many convictions was later overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. In overturning the verdict, the high court specifically noted that only four hours of testimony had been presented on the murder for which Long was charged, while three entire days had been spent admitting highly prejudicial evidence of other murders that Long was not charged with.

By the time the state of Florida was done with Bobby Joe Long, he had received two death sentences and thirty-four life sentences, plus an additional 693 years. Incidentally, Bobby Joe, the son of Joe Long and Louella Lucas, was a cousin of prolific serial killer/assassin/patsy (depending on who is telling the story) Henry Lee Lucas, who, for the record, and despite what you may have heard, was the only Death Row inmate to have his sentence commuted by Texas Governor George W. Bush.

Consider also the case of Albert DeSalvo, who popular mythology holds was convicted as the "Boston Strangler," although the truth is that DeSalvo was never convicted of killing anyone. He was never even charged with killing anyone. And beyond an obviously fraudulent series of inaccurate 'confessions,' obtained by his 'defense' attorney, there was never any evidence that supported the state's contention that Albert DeSalvo killed anyone.

What DeSalvo was charged with was a series of sexual assaults/robberies (Albert, like Bobby Joe, was said to operate simultaneously as both a serial killer and an absurdly prolific serial rapist), but there was a serious shortage of evidence to support the charges -- which meant, naturally, that it was necessary to introduce evidence of a dozen or so uncharged murders, both to guarantee a conviction and to obscure the fact that the actual charges were entirely unsupported.

This time, however, there was a unique twist to the strategy: the evidence of the uncharged crimes was introduced by the defense! After the state had presented its paper-thin case in support of the assault/robbery charges, which the defense made no effort to challenge, the defense responded by presenting evidence purportedly tying the defendant to thirteen uncharged murders!

The attorney who presented that novel defense, without even a hint of shame, described his strategy thusly: "I wanted the right to defend a man for robbery and assault by proving that he had committed thirteen murders.” Prosecutors, needless to say, didn't have many objections to such a strategy.

The defense claimed that the intent was to prove De Salvo insane by portraying him as a maniacal killer, and thereby win him an acquittal on the far less serious charges that he was actually facing. The real intent, however, appears to have been to use the cover of the legal proceedings to 'convict' DeSalvo of the uncharged murders in the court of public opinion -- which was the only way that he could be convicted given that there was no evidence to support an actual prosecution.

The attorney who 'defended' DeSalvo - by first fingering him as the prime suspect, then coaxing a 'confession' from him (with help from CIA hypnotist William Jennings Bryan), and then presenting the state's case and calling it a defense - should have been permanently disbarred. Instead, he went on to completely unwarranted fame and fortune. In fact, you may have heard of him. His name is F. Lee Bailey.

In addition to the curiously parallel prosecutions, Albert De Salvo, Wayne Williams, Bobby Joe Long, and John Allen Muhammad had another thing in common: all took the fall for crimes that they almost certainly did not commit.

In recent years, relatives of the alleged killer and of some of the victims have pushed for a reexamination of the Boston killings. Evidence obtained through the recent exhumation of bodies has effectively cleared DeSalvo of some of the crimes he was 'convicted' of committing. But don't expect the official mythology to change any time soon; the recent involvement in the case of notorious disinformation-peddler Gerald Posner sends a clear signal that the true facts of the so-called "Boston Strangler" case will continue to be covered up.

Many of the relatives of the children slaughtered in Atlanta do not now believe, nor have they ever believed, that Williams was anything more than a patsy -- for the simple reason that the available evidence never came close to indicating otherwise. The media, of course, happily played along with the state's ruse, billing Williams' trial as the "Atlanta Child Killer" trial, just as Albert DeSalvo's trial was billed as the "Boston Strangler" trial. The truth remains, nevertheless, that no one has ever stood trial for the murders in either Boston or Atlanta (just as no one has stood trial for the ten sniper shootings in Maryland).

Another parallel to the Muhammad case can be found in the trial of 'serial killer' Herb Mullin. Mullin's defense counsel, James Jackson, began his opening statement by declaring: "Friday the 13th, October 1972, Herbert William Mullin took a baseball bat and clubbed one Lawrence White to death.” Not only had he declared his client guilty of murder, he had declared him guilty of a murder for which Herb had never even been charged! Jackson also informed the jury: “We do not, as you know, intend to argue the proposition that [Herb] did not commit these killings.”

"We do not," Jackson may as well have said, "intend to actually defend our client." Jackson employed that very same strategy when he was called upon to defend 'serial killer' Ed Kemper and 'mass murderer' John Frazier (Jackson was assisted in all three cases, incidentally, by psychiatrist Donald Lunde, just as Bailey was assisted by Bryan).

'Serial killer' Gary Heidnik's attorney included this little gem in his opening statement to jurors: "The judge said something this morning about people being innocent until proven guilty. My client is not innocent. He is very, very guilty.” Heidnik, incidentally, was kept heavily dosed with Thorazine throughout his trial and reportedly sat expressionless, staring straight ahead and saying nothing. He was described as being "nearly catatonic."

Gary Heidnik had joined the U.S. Army in November 1961 and requested that he be trained as a military policeman. The Army though opted to send him to Ft. Sam Houston, near San Antonio, Texas, for training as a medic. When that training was completed, he was sent to an Army hospital in West Germany to work as an orderly. At that hospital, Heidnik became the involuntary subject of experimentation with powerful hallucinogenic drugs (can you say MK-ULTRA?) Gary was then sent back to a military hospital here in the States and then released early with an honorable discharge. He later became a 'serial killer.'

In January 1979, Jeffrey Dahmer joined the U.S. Army and requested that he be trained as a military policeman. The Army though opted to send him to Ft. Sam Houston, near San Antonio, Texas, for training as a medic. When that training was completed, he was sent to an Army hospital in West Germany to work as an orderly. That did not work out too well, however, and Jeffrey was released early with an honorable discharge. He later became a 'serial killer.'

In September of 1948, Albert De Salvo was inducted into the U.S. Army. He was just seventeen years old and he was on parole, but Uncle Sam didn’t seem to mind. DeSalvo served for nearly eight years, spending much of that time in West Germany, before being honorably discharged. He later became a 'serial killer.'

I could go on here. I could go on for a very, very long time. But I won't.

Instead, I will close by noting that there was one website that distinguished itself by offering principled (though limited) criticism of the Muhammad (and Malvo) trials: Elaine Cassel (a practicing Virginia attorney, author, and teacher), in her various postings, has denounced what she referred to as the "shameful treatment" of Malvo; condemned Ashcroft's selection of jurisdiction based solely on the desire to obtain a death sentence; and linked the sniper case to the U.S. Supreme Court's January 27, 2003 decision to decline to review the use of the death penalty on juveniles.

Cassel also took aim at the strategy employed to garner Muhammad's convictions. Those convictions, Cassel wrote, "remain quite shaky." She noted three areas where there are strong grounds for appeal, one of which she described as "an extremely prejudicial evidence decision [that] allowed families of several sniper victims to testify, even though there was no specific evidence as to the murders. Thus, this evidence is of dubious, if any, relevance and may have been highly prejudicial to jury deliberations related to guilt." The judge, Cassel suggests, "may have exceeded the bounds of his discretion."

Cassel also questioned the judge's dubious decisions concerning Muhammad's purported role in the shootings. Specifically, Cassel objected to the instructions from judge to jury that they need only find that Muhammad was an "immediate perpetrator" of the crimes, and that they could consider the car itself to be a murder weapon. Those instructions, needless to say, certainly played a key role in garnering the convictions.

Most significantly, Cassel questioned the notion that a murder case can and should be treated as a 'terrorism' case. In addressing that issue, Cassel cut to the heart of what the DC Sniper trial was really about:
In the Muhammad case, the concept of "terrorism" has been stretched beyond its breaking point. Broadly interpreted, without attention to its purpose - as prosecutors have interpreted it - the Virginia law would view every crime meant to intimidate the civilian population as "terrorism." But this broad interpretation cannot stand, for virtually every crime is arguably done with this intent ... In the end, when the proverbial smoke clears, the sniper trials may be remembered as a landmark in the post-September 11 attempt to broaden the term "terrorism." The appeal in the Muhammad case will test whether lawmakers can extend the reach of this emotionally charged term to everyday crimes.
Well said. I would add only that there is virtually no chance that Muhammad's convictions, or his sentence, will be set aside. If there were any chance that an appeals courts would seriously and objectively review what occurred in Millette's courtroom, the trial would not have been conducted with such a brazen disregard for the law.

Tobias Barrington Wolff, also writing for, has questioned "what it means for a civilized nation to be obsessively focusing its collective attention on the swiftest, surest way that we can take more life in response to horrible acts of murder ... What does it do to our respect for human life to hear frenzied debates among government officials about the swiftest, surest way to kill the presumed criminals?"

What does it do? It cheapens and degrades human life, just as virtually all aspects of Western popular culture cheapen and degrade human life. Every time you turn on a television - or walk into a movie theater, or thumb your way through the latest bestseller, or fire up a computer/video game - you see human life cheapened and death trivialized ... you see violence, sadism and vigilantism glorified ... you see a world devoid of empathy, of sympathy, of decency, of compassion ... you see a lack of understanding, of even a desire to understand ... you see the celebration of ignorance, pettiness, and vindictiveness.

You see, in other words, the open promotion of a lynch-mob mentality. You see, coming from all directions, a massive propaganda barrage aimed at instilling in the American people a thirst for public bloodletting as a cure for our ailing nation.

What we bore witness to, in the guise of a legitimate legal proceeding, was a two-pronged effort to both obliterate the line between crime and 'terrorism,' and to sell to the masses the idea that the way to heal our wounds and make ourselves whole again is through wholesale bloodletting. All we need do is identify the 'terrorists' -- and then kill them. Kill them all.

* * * * * * * * *

And what of the sniper shootings themselves? As with most 'serial killer' cases, the murders served several purposes, one of which is to disguise the nature of targeted killings by mixing them in with a seemingly random series of murders (which is, incidentally, exactly what Henry Lee Lucas claimed that he was paid to do). The most likely targeted victim in the sniper case was Linda Franklin, though there could be others.

Another function served by 'serial killers' is to provide a pretext for a full-blown media circus, thereby providing a handy distraction from more substantive issues. Distraction is, you see, one of the primary tools by which Washington maintains control. Keep all eyes focused on the arrest, thousands of miles away, of an aging, disoriented, unkempt homeless man, and few will notice that Team Bush has bestowed upon itself extraordinary new police-state powers. Keep all eyes focused on Michael "Extreme Makeover Gone Bad" Jackson, and few will notice when Miami police hold a dress rehearsal for New York City's 2004 Republican National Convention.

This is not meant to suggest, however, that 'serial killer' cases should be regarded simply as useless distractions. There is, in fact, much to learn from a thorough, independent examination of such cases -- but little will be gained from the sensational, disinformational, homogenized, fear-inducing coverage that such cases normally receive.

This is also not meant to suggest that specific distractions are necessary to keep the media focus off of the egregious crimes committed by the Washington elite. As becomes clearer with each passing year, the American press corps can always be counted on to cover up and/or ignore that which is deemed unfit for public consumption. But providing distractions allows the American people (those who are paying attention) to continue deceiving themselves into believing that the massive U.S. media machine is not fundamentally corrupt, just easily misled.

The most important function served by any 'serial killer' case is, without a doubt, scaring the hell out of the American people. As should be clear by now to just about everyone, fear is another primary tool by which Washington maintains control -- fear of crime, fear of 'terrorism,' fear of ruthless foreign tyrants intent on despoiling our cherished way of life, fear of all the things that we must wage war on.

No one can escape the pervasive fear that permeates 21st century America. The gullible and intellectually lazy (which is to say, the majority of us) live in perpetual, and irrational, fear of 'the terrorists.' And so it shall always be. Every hollow victory trumpeted by the White House is quickly followed by an elevation of the 'terrorist threat level,' to remind the unthinking that, while we are definitely winning the 'war on terror,' we will never again be safe.

Those who have not yet lost the ability to independently analyze the 'news' live in fear as well, albeit a different kind of fear -- the entirely rational fear that comes with living in a country where any 'suspect' can be 'disappeared' indefinitely; and where, without a warrant, any home can be entered and searched, any phone can be tapped, any e-mail can be intercepted and read, any piece of mail can be opened, and any piece of luggage can be searched; and where exercising your purported right to express your dissatisfaction with the policies of your elected representatives can land you in jail, or in the hospital.

Perhaps the only escape from the fear is through self medication -- hence the wholesale use and abuse of pain killers and psychiatric drugs.

Few things have struck fear into the hearts of Americans like the specter of the marauding 'serial killer' -- a monster who kills without warning, without pity, and without rational motive. It is precisely the suddenness, the viciousness, and especially the alleged randomness of the killings that cause such fear. Anyone, according to conventional wisdom, can fall victim to a 'serial killer.'

Just as importantly, anyone can be a serial killer, hiding behind a mask of civility. A co-worker. A neighbor. A friend. Even a family member.

The serial killer mythology, a creation of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit, has played a prominent role in the atomization of 'Western' society (which is already at a very advanced stage). The objective of the 'powers that be' is to continue the process until all remaining social bonds have been shredded -- until the people, broken up into armies of one, have lost the ability to fight back against the rapidly encroaching fascist police state.

And so it is that we now have lurking among us a new breed of mythical creature that preys upon society. As with 'serial killers,' no one is safe from the 'terrorists.' And no one is above suspicion. According to Team Bush, someone doing something as seemingly innocuous as carrying an almanac could be a 'terrorist.' And while 'serial killers' have been relatively few in number, 'terrorists' will be everywhere.


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