ROCKVILLE—In a strange courtroom drama, a survivor of the October 2002 sniper shootings in the Washington area came face to face yesterday with the man suspected of trying to kill her.
Caroline Seawell, 47, wounded in the parking lot of a Spotsylvania County, Va., shopping center, coolly answered the questions posed by convicted murderer John Allen Muhammad, who is representing himself in his trial on six murder charges in Montgomery County.
"Fine, thank you," she replied.
And so began yesterday's encounter between Muhammad, already on Virginia's death row for one of the sniper killings, and one of the few people to survive one of the sniper shots.
Muhammad can cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses, though he is barred from approaching them. He briefly questioned Seawell, the first survivor to testify in the Montgomery County trial now in its second week.
He asked Seawell about what she heard on the afternoon of Oct. 4, 2002, as she slammed the hatch on her Toyota Sienna minivan after loading a wreath and scarecrow inside.
"The sound I heard was the bullet hitting the car," she replied.
Muhammad asked her if she heard a gunshot.
"Not that I remember," said Seawell, who now lives in Columbia, S.C.
He also quizzed her about her stance at the rear of her vehicle, with one of his standby lawyers turning this way and that to approximate her position. Seawell's testimony was similar to that which she gave at Muhammad's 2003 trial in Virginia Beach.
"As I was slamming the door down, I felt a pain in my back and then in my front, about the same time I heard something hit the car," Seawell testified. The mother of two added, "I dropped to the ground, and I prayed that God would let me live so that I could take care of my kids."
The bullet had torn through her diaphragm, lung and liver before exiting her chest. Her injuries came a day after five people were killed - four in Montgomery County and one in Washington - by sniper shots. The first Montgomery County victim was killed the evening of Oct. 2, commencing a three-week rampage in which 13 people were shot, 10 fatally.
Lee Boyd Malvo, who told police he was the junior member of the sniper team, has pleaded guilty in Seawell's shooting. He is serving life prison terms for that and two fatal sniper shootings in Virginia.
Seawell, escorted from the courtroom by police, would not discuss her testimony.
Muhammad did not question a second survivor, Iran Brown, who was 13 when he was shot after being dropped off by his aunt at a Bowie middle school on Oct. 7, 2002. During Iran's testimony, Muhammad gave the youth, now 17, the studious gaze with which he has observed other witnesses.
The teen recounted that he had been kicked off the school bus for three days for eating candy during a ride. After he was felled by a gunshot and called out to his aunt, she whisked him to a nearby medical clinic, which sent him to Children's Hospital in Washington. Her quick action is credited with helping to save him.
He lost 80 percent of his stomach, part of his spleen and had to learn to walk again. Now, he said, he wants to play basketball for Duke University.
"I know he doesn't want to be here," Jerome Brown, the teenager's uncle said outside the courtroom. "As a family, we have just gotten our lives back on track. I don't think a kid should have to go through this over and over again."