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baltimoresun.com

Final sniper slaying detailed

Sixth day of trial leads to expected testimony of arrest

By Andrea F. Siegel

sun reporter

May 16, 2006

ROCKVILLE

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Prosecutors reached the final sniper slaying in the murder trial of John Allen Muhammad in a Montgomery County courtroom yesterday, while the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of his Virginia death sentence for another of the serial killings.

In the sixth day of trial testimony, prosecutors ended their presentation of the 13 random sniper shootings, 10 of them fatal, that terrified people from Baltimore to Richmond, Va., during three weeks in October 2002 - and Muhammad, acting as his own lawyer, cheerfully greeted two of the state's witnesses.

"You still look young," Muhammad pleasantly told Nathaniel S. Kane, a 67-year-old retired Foreign Service officer who said he encountered Muhammad six to eight times while working as a fitness trainer at the Silver Spring YMCA.

The final time was the morning of Oct. 22, 2002, Kane said, when between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. he came upon Muhammad in the locker room. Muhammad had come out of the sauna and was sitting on a bench, a towel draped over him, Kane recalled.

The time was barely four hours after driver Conrad E. Johnson was fatally shot around daybreak in the doorway of his county Ride On bus, less than 10 miles away.

Kane testified that he spotted Muhammad with his elbows on his thighs and "his face was buried in his hands." He said he asked Muhammad if he felt OK.

"He lifted up his face and looked me in the eye and said, 'No, everything's OK,'" Kane said. "I said, 'Well, you must have had a hard workout.'"

Kane said he did not see Muhammad's accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, that day but that he had seen him previously with Muhammad.

Questioned by Muhammad, Kane was adamant about the last time he saw him.

"I commend you sir, you have a very good memory," Muhammad said.

He also told a former front desk worker at the YMCA that it was good to see her.

Four of the day's witnesses told of receiving bizarre telephone calls during the shooting rampage, calls that later helped authorities close in on Muhammad and Malvo, moving the case toward expected testimony about the Oct. 24, 2002, arrest of the pair in Muhammad's dark blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, a one-time police car officials say the pair turned into a sniper's lair on wheels.

Officials believe that the two called police and a priest in Ashland, Va., as they sought unsuccessfully to negotiate with one of the largest police task forces assembled in the country. They demanded $10 million to halt the random slayings, using a code that included "Call me God," in notes found by police near several of the shooting sites.

The Rev. William Sullivan, rector of an Ashland church, testified that he took a strange call in his kitchen on Oct. 18, 2002. The caller used the same "Call me God" code and told him to check out an earlier shooting in Montgomery, Ala. Officials later tied that shooting outside a liquor store, on Sept. 21, 2002, in which one woman was killed and another wounded, to Muhammad and Malvo.

A Montgomery County police officer, an FBI agent and a Rockville police dispatcher also described the short telephone conversations they had with a caller police suspect was Malvo.

County officers testified that they combed the woods at Northgate Park, near the Aspen Hill neighborhood where Johnson was shot, and came across a black duffel bag, a left-handed glove whose color was disputed in court, and a plastic bag containing a note.

The note blamed police "incompetence" for the Johnson slaying, and contained a clear threat: "Your children are not safe."

Earlier in the day, Denise Johnson, the bus driver's widow, testified of hearing about the last shooting on television and how she did not think at first that the victim was her husband. "I received a call from my mother-in-law," she said of Sonia Wills informing her "it was Conrad that got shot."

Muhammad, who fired his public defenders when they suggested he is mentally ill, is being tried in the Circuit Court on murder charges in the six Montgomery County sniper killings. He had no questions for Mrs. Johnson.

Muhammad had been represented by court-appointed attorneys in his 2003 trial in Virginia and the appeal of its resulting death sentence.

Informed of the Supreme Court's decision yesterday refusing to hear the appeal, Peter Greenspun, one of the lawyers, said, "I'm very disappointed."

Greenspun added that Muhammad has another legal avenue, but neither he nor co-counsel Jonathan Shapiro - because of their involvement in the Virginia trial - will be able to represent him.

Prosecutors are not pursuing a death penalty in Montgomery County, so the maximum sentence he could receive if convicted is six life terms in prison without parole.

The cost of the trial that some people say is a waste of public dollars has not been calculated, but tops $500,000. So far, the county corrections department has spent $270,000 on Muhammad, 45, and Malvo, 21. Security for Muhammad cost the county sheriff's office $218,000 before jury selection began May 1.

Malvo, serving life without parole for Virginia shootings, is scheduled to be tried here in October but may testify against Muhammad.


Developments

• With testimony on the Oct. 22, 2002, slaying of bus driver Conrad Johnson, Montgomery County prosecutors wrapped up their presentations of the 13 sniper shootings during three weeks in October 2002 that claimed 10 lives.

• A police officer told of finding evidence near the site of the Johnson slaying, including a left-handed brown glove near a note in a tree that appeared to be from the snipers. Other police information indicated the glove was black, and Muhammad, acting as his own lawyer, seized on the discrepancy in cross-examination.

• Four witnesses, including a Virginia clergyman, told of telephone calls that officials believe were efforts by the snipers to open a line of communication with the government, and seeking $10 million to end the shootings. Today: Prosecutors move toward tying Muhammad to shootings elsewhere and his Oct. 24, 2002, arrest.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com
Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.