Washington sniper details chilling plans

Associated Press/May 24, 2006
By Stephen Manning

Rockville, MD. -- John Allen Muhammad had grand plans to extort millions of dollars from authorities in the 2002 Washington-area sniper shootings so he could set up a Canadian camp to train children how to terrorize cities and "shut things down," accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo testified yesterday.

Asked whether he believed Mr. Muhammad's plans, Mr. Malvo said yes.

"He's a man of his word. If he tells you he is going to do something, it is done," Mr. Malvo said. "If he says it, it is legit."

Mr. Malvo, who had never before taken the witness stand against his fellow sniper, gave the most detailed account yet of the planning that went into the three-week shooting rampage that left 10 people dead at gas stations and parking lots.

Mr. Malvo also said Mr. Muhammad devised a two-phase plan to shoot as many as six random people each day for 30 days in the Washington area and then target children and police officers with explosives. They planned to place explosives on school buses in Baltimore, kill a Baltimore police officer and then set off explosives packed with ball bearings at the officer's funeral.

When Mr. Malvo asked Mr. Muhammad why, he said, "For the sheer terror of it; the worst thing you can do to people is aim at their children."

Midway through the rampage, Mr. Malvo said, Mr. Muhammad described plans to take money they would extort from authorities to end the sniper shootings and establish a Canadian commune to train 140 homeless children in terrorist shooting and bombing to "continue the mission" in other cities.

After the Oct. 9, 2002, shooting of Dean Meyers in Manassas, Va., Mr. Muhammad was upset that the two were not meeting their self-imposed quota of six shootings a day. Mr. Malvo said he became upset and refused to talk to Mr. Muhammad. At one point, Mr. Malvo said he put on headphones, listened to music and refused to acknowledge Mr. Muhammad.

Mr. Muhammad responded angrily and told Mr. Malvo, "I'm not going to deal with it. When people have doubts is when they get caught."

Mr. Muhammad, 45, and Mr. Malvo, 21, were arrested on Oct. 24, 2002, at a western Maryland rest stop. Each has been convicted in Virginia of a sniper murder there. Mr. Muhammad received a death sentence while Mr. Malvo was given a life term.

Prosecutors in Maryland have said they are pursuing a second trial in case the Virginia conviction is overturned on appeal and to provide justice in Montgomery County, where six of the 10 killings occurred.

The last time the two came face to face was in October, 2003, when Mr. Malvo was brought in at Mr. Muhammad's first trial. Mr. Malvo refused to testify, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Before testifying, Mr. Malvo told the judge that he intends to plead guilty to murder charges against him in Montgomery County. He appeared nervous but was expressionless when he entered the courtroom, looking generally in Mr. Muhammad's direction but not making direct eye contact.

Mr. Muhammad, who is acting as his own lawyer, said in his opening statement that both he and Mr. Malvo were innocent and that they were merely roaming the area looking for Mr. Muhammad's children, who were taken away from him after a previous marriage.

In his testimony, Mr. Malvo said he was so distraught after the six-hour conversation in July, 2002, outlining plans for the rampage that he played Russian roulette, crying in a bathtub. He pulled the trigger several times before realizing the next pull would be fatal.

"I just broke down. I couldn't pull the trigger," Mr. Malvo said.

He described how he spent the night in a Baltimore cemetery, training a Bushmaster .223-calibre rifle on a fast-food restaurant, waiting for pregnant women. He said he saw four, but couldn't bring himself to shoot.

The pair scouted dozens of shooting sites in the region. They looked for scenes that had few surveillance cameras, a limited number of witnesses and easy escape routes. They stopped at many shooting sites, such as shopping malls, parking lots and the area around Howard University in Washington, but gave up because too many people were nearby.

Mr. Malvo said he shot three people during the rampage, but Mr. Muhammad was the triggerman in the others. Mr. Malvo said he was supposed to shoot five children at a Bowie middle school on Oct. 7, 2002, as they got off a bus, but no buses arrived. Instead, he shot 13-year-old Iran Brown.

In most cases, Mr. Malvo acted as the spotter with Mr. Muhammad firing from the trunk of their modified Chevrolet Caprice. Using two-way radios, Mr. Malvo would tell Mr. Muhammad when it was clear to shoot and then watch the victim fall in the Caprice's side mirror. Mr. Muhammad would then scramble back into the driver's seat, and the pair would drive off. When Mr. Malvo fired, he shot from outside the Caprice.

He also described meeting Mr. Muhammad in the Caribbean after Mr. Malvo's parents largely abandoned him. Mr. Malvo said Mr. Muhammad "basically took me under his wing" a few months after they met in May, 2000. He said he came to love Mr. Muhammad.

Mr. Muhammad trained Mr. Malvo in weapons, kept him on a rigorous diet that allowed only one meal each day, and introduced him to the teachings of the Nation of Islam, Mr. Malvo said.

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