Muhammad questions Malvo about his sanity

Associated Press/May 24, 2006

Rockville, Maryland — In an often testy four-hour cross-examination, John Allen Muhammad questioned the mental health and memory of his one-time sniper protege Lee Boyd Malvo and repeatedly referred to him as "son."

"I would prefer you address me by my name," Malvo shot back at one point, drawing an apology from the defendant.

But when Muhammad discussed what had been a father-son-like bond between the two, Malvo's soft voice grew quieter and he hunched down in the witness chair.

Muhammad, defending himself against murder charges in six Maryland killings, tried to counter Malvo's damaging testimony Tuesday that he sought to spread terror in the Washington region in October 2002. Muhammad often demanded yes-or-no answers and complained when Malvo gave longer replies.

Muhammad, already sentenced to death in a Virginia murder, pointed to Malvo's first sniper trial in Virginia where Malvo pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

"Who decided you was insane? ... How many doctors said you was insane?" Muhammad asked.

"They said I was indoctrinated," Malvo responded, referring to his Virginia attorney's claims that Muhammad brainwashed him and turned him into a killer.

Muhammad didn't challenge some of the wild schemes Malvo described Tuesday. Malvo testified that Muhammad wanted to shoot six people per day for a month, then use explosives to kill children in schools, on school buses and in children's hospitals.

Muhammad planned to terrorize the region with shootings and explosives, with children the principal targets "for the sheer terror of it," Malvo said, relating the older man's words. The two hoped to extort $10 million from authorities in return for an end to the killings. The money would be used to train 140 homeless children to terrorize other cities.

Instead of pressing Malvo on those accounts, Muhammad grilled him about minor details of some crime scenes, trying to show Malvo's memory was flawed. He suggested Malvo had a problem with exaggeration. He repeatedly asked Malvo about guns and how they work, trying to counter Malvo's claim that Muhammad taught him how to fire the high-powered Bushmaster rifle used in the killings.

Muhammad, 45, began his defense late Wednesday after prosecutors rested their case following nearly three weeks of testimony. But he struggled with his first few witnesses — one woman had such fuzzy memory of what she saw following the Oct. 22, 2002 shooting of bus driver Conrad Johnson that Muhammad asked if he could treat her as a hostile witness.

Referring to the influence he once held over Malvo, Muhammad asked him whether the word "indoctrinated" could also include a positive influence. Malvo said yes.

Muhammad recalled a moment when Malvo saved Muhammad's young son, John Jr., from drowning. "Son, I mean Mr. Malvo, isn't it true that if the roles were turned, and Lee Boyd Malvo was in that water, that John Allen Muhammad would have got him?" Muhammad asked.

Prosecutors objected and Circuit Judge James Ryan wouldn't let Malvo answer.

Questioned later by prosecutors, Malvo said Muhammad treated him differently than his own young children.

"Mr. Muhammad did not use any of his children to murder other people," Malvo said.

Malvo, 21, has agreed to plead guilty and be sentenced to life in prison for the six Maryland murders for which Muhammad is being tried. Malvo said Tuesday he wanted to testify to confront Muhammad and give victim families some answers.

Ten people were killed and three wounded in the Washington region during the three-week spree in October 2002.

Malvo said he shot three of the victims, while Muhammad was the triggerman in the rest of the shootings.

Malvo also said Muhammad, who is black, hated the United States, and believed that "the white man was the devil." Muhammad noted during his cross-examination that many of his friends, including an ex-girlfriend, are white.

But questioned later by prosecutors, Malvo said he confronted Muhammad about the apparent contradiction, telling him to choose between his girlfriend and Malvo. Muhammad broke off his relationship with the woman.

"How did he make you feel about white people at that time, Mr. Malvo?" Montgomery County Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree asked.

"Hate," he said.

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