John Allen Muhammad and a Virginia police officer who says he encountered and questioned him a half-hour after a killing got into a testy courtroom exchange yesterday, as Muhammad repeatedly asked him the same questions.
"He was trying to get me riled up," Prince William County Officer Steven Bailey said after testifying in Muhammad's trial on charges that he killed six people in Montgomery County in the October 2002 sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington region. "Some of the questions he was asking did get me a little hot under the collar."
Bailey was unshakable in his identification of Muhammad as the man at the wheel of a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice on the night of Oct. 9., 2002, when Dean H. Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg was killed as he pumped gasoline at the Battlefield Sunoco station near Manassas, Va.
Muhammad - who has been sentenced to death in Virginia for the Meyers killing - is acting as his own lawyer, having fired the public defenders assigned to him when they contended that he was mentally disturbed.
Yesterday, legal pad in hand, Muhammad sought to put Bailey's account into question. As the defendant repeatedly asked about when Bailey recognized him, Bailey kept telling him he saw photographs of the Caprice and Muhammad on television after his arrest, getting testy as he said, "It was your picture on TV."
That prompted Muhammad to contend that Bailey was "making statements" from the witness stand. Judge James L. Ryan told Muhammad that Bailey was offering a context for his recollection.
"I didn't ask him to put it in context," Muhammad said sharply.
Bailey's testimony is important to the state's presentation to the jury, as prosecutors methodically build a case that, through DNA, the pattern of notes at crime scenes, telephone calls, the rifle found in the car during the arrest and other evidence, ties Muhammad to the shootings that left 10 people dead and three wounded during three weeks that October in the Washington region.
Questioned by Assistant State's Attorney Vivek Chopra, Bailey testified that after Meyers' killing, all traffic was directed into the Bob Evans restaurant parking lot where people were asked if they heard or saw anything. There, Bailey noticed an ADC map book of Baltimore, later found to have been stolen from a Baltimore library and linked to Muhammad through fingerprints.
Bailey described the car as "very dirty, it had a lot of trash." But Muhammad was polite, Bailey testified, telling him that "he was just trying to get home," and his account seemed credible.
In retrospect, he said outside the courtroom, "I didn't catch on. I wish I had."
Earlier yesterday, the aunt of the youngest sniper shooting survivor fled from the courtroom as 911 recordings about her nephew's shooting Oct. 7 outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie were played. Iran Brown, then 13, could be heard in the background of one call, wailing in pain, as his aunt, Tanya Brown sped him to a nearby medical clinic, telling a dispatcher that she saw a hole in his chest and that the color was draining from the youth's face.
Baltimore police Officer James Snyder testified that he encountered Muhammad a day after the teen was shot, parked in a Caprice near a Subway in the city's Remington neighborhood. Muhammad was lying on the front seat, apparently asleep, and Snyder said he knocked on the window.
Snyder said Muhammad told him he was driving from Northern Virginia to see his father in New Jersey and was taking a break. Snyder said Muhammad passed a standard background check - he had a valid car registration and driver's license and was facing no warrants.
"I had no reason to hold him there at the time," Snyder said.