Some days, on his way to work, Pat Mistry feels as if he is taking a sniper tour. He drives by the spot where bus driver Johnson was fatally shot, the Mobil station where Walekar was killed and the Michaels craft store in Aspen Hill where a bullet pierced the glass on the evening of Oct. 2 -- all before arriving at the Shell station he manages, where Lewis-Rivera died.

Mistry took over the station after his brother, who owned it, died in 2004. He says not a month passes that a few people don't ask whether a sniper shooting took place there.

"I say, 'Yes.' They still come back," he says. He does, sometimes, feel overcome by sadness when he looks at where Lewis-Rivera died. "The mother is always the focal point of a family," he says.

There is no memorial by the car vacuum, he says, though someone leaves flowers there once a year.

In contrast, at the rear of Fitzgerald, a granite marker covers the site where Buchanan, known for his volunteer work with the region's Boys and Girls Clubs, was killed cutting the auto dealership's grass.

Where Johnson was killed, a homemade memorial with a white cross envelops a pole by the bus stand.

His widow, who lives in Fort Washington, has never seen it.

"I have never been there, and I don't plan on going. Why would I want to go? That is the place where he was murdered," says Denise Johnson.

She thinks of her exuberant husband in happier times; take that message on their bathroom mirror.

"He just wrote on the bathroom glass, 'I love you,'" she recalls, laughing. "Then I looked and saw that it was my best lipstick. It was so sweet, but honey, no, that was a $12 lipstick."

After her husband's killing, Johnson poured her grief into lobbying against gun violence and into the legal claim that she, two survivors and the relatives of five other victims made against the maker of the Bushmaster .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle tied to the crimes, and the Tacoma, Wash., store from which it was stolen. (The lawsuit was settled for $2.5 million in September 2004.)

She quit her human resources job two years ago to pull herself out of sorrow and devote more time to her sons, now 18 and 10, who she says needed more attention as they came to terms with her husband's death. In recent weeks, the family has visited the University of Pittsburgh, where her older son will start college in the fall, and has traveled the area with her younger son's basketball team.

"I refuse to have us live in grief, sadness and depression. Muhammad and Malvo killed Conrad. I am not going to let him kill me and kill my children," she says.

Confrontation
Among Montgomery officials, there was a sense that the hardest-hit county -- which also served as the headquarters of one of the largest police investigations in the nation -- should have the opportunity to confront Muhammad.

"There is no schoolchild or adult who doesn't recall what it was like," Gansler said. "Montgomery County was the epicenter of both the carnage and the fear."

Charles A. Moose, the police chief who led the investigation and later wrote a book about his experience, was not available for comment last week, his wife said. The couple have moved to Hawaii.

Maryland prosecutors took the death penalty off the table in Muhammad's case in early March, saying it would be difficult to secure and, if won, would likely not survive appeals.

Instead, Muhammad, who fired his defense attorneys from the public defender's office after they alleged he was paranoid and too mentally ill to stand trial, faces multiple life sentences without parole if convicted.

"The more I tell them I'm innocent, the more they tell me I am incompetent," Muhammad told Montgomery County Circuit Judge James L. Ryan during a March hearing. Ryan has appointed three Baltimore lawyers as standby counsel.

The trial promises to be a spectacle.

Malvo is the first person on Muhammad's handwritten list of 178 witnesses, and Muhammad wants to call an additional 354. The judge has issued 28 defense subpoenas. Prosecutors, who expect to call about 135 witnesses, have not said whether they expect to put Malvo on the witness stand to give his account.

On Friday, Muhammad, sporting a closely cropped haircut, again failed to get his trial postponed and then asked that it be moved, arguing that he could not get a fair trial in Montgomery County. That request was denied by Ryan.

In remembrance
In Brookside Gardens, a few miles from the Montgomery's sniper killings, a reflection terrace by the water is dedicated to sniper victims.

"This place also honors the kindness of so many who supported their families and whose active compassion still strengthens the bonds of community," reads an etching in one of the stones.

A few paces away, the pinks and greens of a weeping cherry tree quiver in the breeze. And just uphill sits the stump of a tree cut down.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com