Muhammad won't testify at Malvo trial

Associated Press/December 6, 2003

The jury hearing the murder trial of Lee Boyd Malvo got a lesson Friday from a former cult member about indoctrination, and he said that it doesn't always occur as part of a group.

But John Allen Muhammad -- the person Malvo's attorneys claim indoctrinated their client -- won't be appearing at this trial. Fairfax County, Va., Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush ruled Friday that moving Muhammad from the Prince William, Va., County jail in Manassas to Chesapeake was too dangerous. She told the lawyers she wouldn't authorize the transfer.

Malvo's defense team isn't contesting that the teenager, now 18, traveled with Muhammad across the country in 2002, and that the two ultimately committed the sniper shootings that took 10 lives in the Washington region in a three-week period. But they claim that Muhammad brainwashed Malvo, making him temporarily insane and not responsible for his actions.

Although they realized that Muhammad would not answer questions if called to the witness stand, Malvo's lawyers wanted him brought into the courtroom as a "human exhibit," to show the jury the difference in size between the sturdy Muhammad and the scrawny Malvo. They also wanted the jury to get a sense of Muhammad's demeanor, variously described as charming and imposing.

Muhammad was convicted last month in Virginia Beach of masterminding the sniper shootings, and the jury sentenced him to death. In testimony during the penalty phase of Muhammad's trial, it was revealed that Muhammad had made at least one escape attempt from the Prince William jail.

Roush had previously said she was not inclined to approve Muhammad's transfer. In a bench conference at the end of an abbreviated day of testimony, Craig Cooley, one of Malvo's attorneys, said the defense team still "unanimously prefer to bring Mr. Muhammad, but we will submit it to the Court's discretion."

Fairfax Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond Morrogh said, "It's a dangerous thing to do given his escape attempts. I don't think there's any reason to put anyone's life in danger, and we will stipulate to his size."

Roush said: "He stands convicted of capital murder and has a jury sentence of death. He's got nothing to lose. It's just a danger moving people around the state and bringing him here for a size comparison, which is all it's going to be. If you want to fly him down, the plane could crash. If they drive him, then the car could crash. I just think it's a danger to the deputies to be transporting him down here."

Roush placed a gag order on the lawyers in the case on Thursday, and the defense declined to comment after her ruling.

Earlier Friday, Cooley won a crucial victory for the defense when it seemed the indoctrination theory would be shut out of the case. He convinced Roush to allow a cult and brainwashing expert to testify, over the objections of Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr.

The defense first called Paul Martin on Thursday, hoping he would explain to the jury in generic terms how a person becomes brainwashed, or indoctrinated. Following that, the defense planned to call mental health experts to testify that Malvo had been indoctrinated to such an extent that he was temporarily insane during the sniper rampage of October 2002.

But Horan repeatedly questioned the relevance of "indoctrination" to "insanity," because indoctrination is not part of the definition of insane under Virginia law. "He can't just come in here and give a speech on how one becomes indoctrinated," Horan said Thursday. "It has to be based on facts in evidence."

Roush told defense attorney Thomas Walsh that all of his questions to Martin had to be framed in terms of the facts in Malvo's case. The defense team was baffled, and withdrew Martin from the stand.

Friday, Walsh recalled Martin and tried to ask hypothetical questions about indoctrination based on Malvo's life story. But Horan constantly objected, saying Walsh was misstating the facts. Martin left the stand again.

Cooley rose and told the judge, "It's perfectly acceptable for him (Martin) as an information witness to say there are these criteria, accepted in the scientific field, of indoctrination." Cooley likened Martin's testimony to that of a fingerprint expert, who explains to a jury the background of fingerprint analysis, and how one fingerprint is matched to another. Two fingerprint analysts did just that for the prosecution in Malvo's trial.

Horan pointed out that indoctrination is barely mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, the accepted reference book for diagnosing mental illness. Opining without accepted criteria "is the ultimate refuge for mental health scoundrels," he said.

Cooley assured the judge that his next three witnesses, all mental health experts, would link Malvo's indoctrination to the legal criteria for insanity.

"I misunderstood what Dr. Martin was here for," Roush said. "I thought he was going to give an opinion on indoctrination." Cooley said no. Martin was recalled to the stand a third time.

Martin said he had been a member of a large Christian-oriented cult in the 1970s, and now runs a cult deprogramming center in Albany, Ohio. He said those who indoctrinate others typically feature a specific dogma or ideology, and that ideology somehow addresses a subject's past. "Make a person have doubts about their past, their personality, their self," Martin said.

Questioning the ideology is then heavily discouraged, and the result is "usually a sense of isolation," Martin testified. "Not so much they have to be in a compound or isolated from the world, but their time is tied up with these people."

In cults, time is spent practicing certain exercises, studying for long hours, and hearing exhortations about what the group leader wants, Martin said. "Usually there's some sort of fear of leaving, physical consequences, spiritual consequences," he said.

Witnesses in the trial have said that Muhammad and Malvo exercised frequently, and his lawyers said Malvo was made to listen to instructional and political tapes by Muhammad. Malvo changed his religion to Islam after meeting Muhammad.

Walsh asked if indoctrination could occur one-on-one, rather than in groups. "Yes," Martin said. "It can actually be stronger. In a one-on-one situation, in my experience, there's more of a bond."

Martin said brainwashed or indoctrinated people often function normally in society, and are not necessarily penned in. He noted that members of David Koresh's cult in Waco, Texas, and Jim Jones' cult in Guyana were allowed outside the compounds.

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