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Evidence May Help Sniper Suspect

John Lee Malvo headshot, suspect in Washington DC area sniper shootings, photo 2002/11/19
AP
Attorneys for Washington area sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo have learned from the prosecutor in the case that witnesses may back up defense theories that John Allen Muhammad "brainwashed" and trained the younger Malvo, says a report.

The Washington Post reports that Robert Horan, the Fairfax County prosecutor trying to convict Malvo in the Oct. 14 murder Linda Franklin, has sent letters to the defense team describing the witnesses.

However, Horan has not made the witness statements available to the defense team. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday on the defense request for those records.

According to the newspaper, defense lawyers have asked the judge to force prosecutors to turn over witness statements relating to two defense theories: that Muhammad dominated and controlled Malvo, and that Muhammad trained Malvo in sniper tactics.

The defense team argued that Muhammad's degree of control over Malvo could point to "the potential of false or exaggerated confession." The military training Malvo received, the defense said, could have been "intended to desensitize him."

Horan rebuffed both requests. On July 11, he told the court: "The Commonwealth is aware of no witness who describes Lee Boyd Malvo as being 'under the spell' of John Muhammad."

He also told the court: "The Commonwealth is aware of no witness who would testify that [Malvo] was 'required to receive military training.'"

But he subsequently sent the defense team letters describing witnesses who appeared to support at least portions of the defense theories.

Horan told the defense team there were six witness who once shared a homeless shelter with the accused snipers "who comment on the degree of 'obedience' shown" by Malvo.

"It is hard for me to believe that anyone would admit to the killings in this case if they did not do them," Horan added. "None of that material indicates the relationship was such that Malvo would falsely confess to anything."

Horan also told the defense that a retired Navy man who had been interviewed "never suggested he was recruited by Muhammad to train Malvo in the use of weapons and military tactics," but did accompany the two to a shooting range where "Muhammad coached Malvo on being a better marksman."

"If they were the snipers, Malvo was the shooter and Muhammad was the spotter," the witness said, according to The Post's quotation of Horan's letter. The witness also said Muhammad encouraged Malvo to play a video game in a "sniper mode."

Muhammad, 42, is charged in the Oct. 9 slaying of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a gas station.

Recently, a judge ruled that Muhammad's trial will be moved 200 miles from Prince William County to Virginia Beach. Circuit Judge LeRoy Millette said it "has been clearly shown that such a change of venue is necessary to ensure a fair and impartial jury."

Millette's decision means that neither Muhammad nor Malvo will face trial in the Washington suburbs, which were terrorized during a three-week spree of fatal shootings in October.

Muhammad and Malvo have been linked to 20 shootings, including 13 killings, in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors have said the killings in metropolitan Washington were part of a scheme to extort $10 million from the government.

Earlier this month, the judge in the Malvo case, Jane Marum Roush, moved his trial from Fairfax County to Chesapeake, which is adjacent to Virginia Beach. Roush agreed with defense lawyers who argued that every resident of Fairfax County could be considered a victim in the case because of the intense fear that gripped the area during the spree.

The defense lawyers in the Muhammad case made a similar argument. Initially, Prince William County prosecutor Paul Ebert had opposed a change in venue, saying that an impartial jury could be found. But Ebert changed his mind after Roush moved the Malvo trial, saying that it would be inconsistent to move one trial and not the other.

Millette, in his decision Wednesday, cited the prosecution's reversal in moving the trial.