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Supermax guard testifies at Malvo trial

Teen-age sniper suspect 'said he had 21 bodies,' shift supervisor tells jury

By Andrea F. Siegel

Sun Staff

November 21, 2003

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CHESAPEAKE, Va. - A guard from Baltimore's Supermax prison told jurors yesterday that sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo laughed when he talked about killing FBI analyst Linda Franklin, said he had planned to shoot a pregnant woman at a Baltimore cemetery, and said he accepted that he would be sentenced to death.

The testimony by Capt. Joseph Stracke, a shift supervisor at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, came during the fourth day of prosecution testimony in Malvo's capital murder trial. Malvo faces the possibility of execution if convicted.

Yesterday's testimony related the second of three confessions that jurors will learn of before the prosecution rests its case, which is expected to occur Monday. Jurors have heard a tape of a confession to a Prince William County police detective, and today they are expected to hear one Malvo made to a Fairfax County investigator.

Stracke testified yesterday that Malvo "said he had 21 bodies around the U.S.," apparently in reference to people who were fatally shot during the sniper rampage.

"He said he knew he was going to get the death sentence," Stracke said, later adding that "he said no prison could hold him."

When Malvo talked about Linda Franklin, who was shot to death outside a Home Depot in Fairfax County on Oct. 14 last year, Stracke said, "He said he blew her head off. He was laughing as he was saying it." The guard said Malvo's justification was that Franklin was standing there, "lazy."

Malvo is charged with two counts of capital murder in the death of Franklin, who was shot in the parking lot while just a few feet from her husband. One count accuses Malvo of multiple killings within three years. The other, under Virginia's untested anti-terrorism law, alleges that Franklin's killing was part of a plot to extort $10 million from the government.

Stracke said Malvo told him that the shooting of a pregnant woman was to occur near Conkling Street in Baltimore, but that Muhammad called it off because a police helicopter flew overhead. Hebrew Friendship Cemetery is in that area, although Stracke said Malvo did not mention the cemetery by name.

Stracke said Malvo at first refused to talk when placed in an isolation area of Supermax after his arrest at a rest stop in Frederick on Oct. 24 last year with his alleged accomplice, John Allen Muhammad. But the native of Jamaica, who was 17 at the time, wanted some of the fish that Cpl. Wayne Davis, another correctional officer, was eating. Stracke told Malvo that pointing at the fish wouldn't get him any.

"I said, 'If you want something, you got to ask for it. He said, 'I want some fish.'" Stracke said. Stracke testified that he told Malvo to ask Davis because it was Davis' meal. When Malvo did, Davis gave him some. The next day, Stracke told his supervisor that Malvo was "talking to us all about the killings."

One of them apparently was the shooting of Keenya Cook in Tacoma, Wash., on Feb. 16 last year. She was shot in the face when she answered the door at the home of her aunt, Isa Nichols, who had worked as a bookkeeper for Muhammad but had sided with his estranged wife during a bitter divorce and custody battle.

Much of what Stracke said was repeated from a pretrial hearing in July in which the defense unsuccessfully sought to bar trial testimony from Stracke and Davis.

Davis also testified at the pretrial hearing, though he did not testify in court yesterday.

Davis said Malvo told him that he and Muhammad embarked on the shooting spree because they were Muslim and white people had tried to harm Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Davis also testified that he specifically asked Malvo if he was "brainwashed," and Malvo said no.

But brainwashing is a linchpin for the defense because Malvo is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming that he was indoctrinated by the older Muhammad.

Stracke testified yesterday that Malvo described the dark blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice and how he shot from the trunk through a beveled hole cut just above the rear license plate.

Yesterday, jurors were taken through a tunnel to see the Caprice, which Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan has called the "killing machine."

Stracke also testified that Malvo told him he intended to shoot into a busload of students outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie on Oct. 7 last year, but that the bus pulled onto the property the wrong way. Malvo said he wanted to shoot a child to upset then-Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, Stracke said.

Malvo is accused of shooting Iran Brown, a 13-year-old student who had just been dropped off at the school by his aunt. Brown testified briefly yesterday and was allowed to speak not from the witness stand near Malvo, but from a seat on the other side of the courtroom near the jury box.

"I got out of the car, and I got shot," the child said, explaining that he got back into the car and that his aunt, a nurse, drove to a clinic while he told her he loved her.

Also yesterday, a weapons expert from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives linked shooting after shooting to the Bushmaster rifle found in the Caprice when the pair were arrested. Walter A. Dandridge Jr. testified that ballistics evidence linked 11 of the 13 Washington-area shootings to the Bushmaster rifle.

A fingerprint expert testified that Malvo's prints were found on the rifle, though he would have been holding the weapon upside down.