Indeed, Iran Brown's family hired lawyers last week to quash a summons that he appear in court and testify for the prosecution. They filed a motion to keep Iran from testifying, but they abruptly withdrew the motion yesterday morning after receiving assurances from prosecutors that the questioning would be brief.

"His mother had concerns that he would be traumatized by being in the same room with Mr. Muhammad," said Steven Frucci, one of Brown's attorneys.

Jurors also heard yesterday of the painstaking search for evidence in the woods near the middle school. Hundreds of police cadets combed the woods, and two made an important find.

Troy Mason, now with the Montgomery County Park Police, said he trimmed back a bush near a clearing with a direct line of sight to the school entrance.

"I remember the leaves and roots, and my partner made one swipe with a rake, and I heard a ping," Mason said. "I looked down and, excuse my expression, I think I said 'Holy s-!' and there it was - a shell casing right at the base of our feet."

The casing was later linked to the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle found in Muhammad's car when he and Malvo were arrested. Police also found in those woods a tarot card with Malvo's DNA on it and a Bic pen barrel with Muhammad's DNA.

The prosecution called two witnesses yesterday who said they saw Muhammad's Caprice near Brown's school the morning of the shooting. Roger Polk Jr. said he saw the Caprice outside his mother's home near the school the afternoon before the shooting and again in the morning. He said his mother told him to write down its license plate.

"She just had a little suspicion about it, and she said something's not right about that vehicle," Polk said.

She wasn't the only one to think that. A woman who saw the Caprice several days later at an Exxon station in Fredericksburg, Va., said she immediately felt uneasy about it. Christine Goodwin, a software engineer who was eight months pregnant at the time, pulled into the Exxon at 7:15 a.m. Oct. 11.

"When I saw that car, I felt very uncomfortable," said Goodwin. "I had a lot of red flags going off. Everything about that car was wrong. That car was completely threatening to me. My first instinct was to call the police."

A prosecutor asked her why she didn't.

"Because they were looking for a white van," Goodwin said.

A woman who was eating breakfast at a waffle house next to the Exxon said she also saw the Caprice a little later that morning. Patricia Bradshaw said the car slowly drove past the Exxon and pulled into a Ramada parking lot directly across from the gas pump where, minutes later, Kenneth H. Bridges was shot.

Bradshaw said a man then ran into the waffle house and announced to the diners, "You better get down. I think a man's been shot." Everyone moved away from the windows, though Bradshaw later went outside to report the Caprice.

"When a man said the shots came from the Ramada," Bradshaw said, "I turned to my sister and said, 'Oh my God, that blue car. I have to tell somebody about that blue car.'"

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.