CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Dennis Bowman spent the past six weeks hearing stories of serial murder and ruined lives. As a juror in the John Allen Muhammad sniper case, he was haunted by the grisly autopsy photographs of people shot in the head, and he didn't sleep the night before he voted to put Muhammad to death.
Now he's sitting through it all again.
On a day when he could have stayed home with his family, Bowman sat yesterday in the crowded courtroom where Muhammad's alleged accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, is on trial on capital murder charges. This time, he's not a juror, but a spectator.
"It's unfinished business," Bowman said yesterday outside the courthouse. "This individual, Malvo, is a finely crafted killing machine. I want to see him taken care of too."
Bowman, a hardware store clerk, is the first of the 12 Muhammad jurors to attend the Malvo trial. He is also among the least likely to do so. He voted to sentence Muhammad to life in prison when the jury began deliberations, and he spoke last week of the enormous weight he felt in ultimately changing his mind and opting for the death penalty.
But he now believes that Malvo should also be put to death because, he said, the teen-ager was equally responsible for the killings. So Bowman was in court yesterday and will be again today to see that justice is done, he said, and in the hope of learning answers to some of the lingering questions left over from the Muhammad trial.
'Asking question why'
"I'm still asking the question why," Bowman said.
He said the jurors came to the conclusion that the motive for the killings was to threaten Muhammad's former wife, Mildred, who lived with the couple's three children in Clinton, in Prince George's County. The loss of custody of those children has been described as a turning point when Muhammad's carefully constructed middle-class life fell apart.
"We thought it was a decoy operation to shoot all these innocent people, and he probably would have shot five or 10 more and then shot Mildred and then shot five or 10 more," Bowman said. "Then he would have popped out of the woodwork to claim his children."
He added, "That was our conclusion, but I don't know if I'll ever figure it out."
Bowman, 52, said he hopes some clues come next week, when Malvo's defense team will present mental health experts who are expected to testify as to how Muhammad's control of the teen-ager affected him. Bowman plans to be in court for that testimony.
Bowman isn't the only refugee from the Muhammad trial to turn up in the gallery of the Malvo trial. Victoria Snider, whose brother, James L. "Sonny" Buchanan Jr., was one of the first sniper victims in Maryland, attended almost every day of the Muhammad trial and is doing the same for Malvo.
Snider sits in court every day, even though she knows she will not hear prosecutors speak of her brother's murder to the jury. That's because the bullet fragments recovered from his body were so disfigured that ballistics experts could not link them to the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle found in Muhammad and Malvo's car.
Experts were able to conclusively link that rifle to the bullets used in 16 shootings across the country, and only those shootings are being presented at the sniper trials. But there is no doubt in Snider's mind about who killed her brother. Buchanan, 39, was shot while mowing a lawn in Montgomery County on Oct. 3, 2002, the first of five sniper killings that day.
In a brother's memory
"I feel that both [Muhammad and Malvo] are equally as guilty as the other," Snider said yesterday. She added that she is attending the trials to honor the memory of her brother, even if his name is never heard in court.
"I am here to be a witness for him and to stand up for him," she said.
Muhammad was convicted of killing civil engineer Dean H. Meyers on Oct. 9, 2002, at a gas station near Manassas, Va. Malvo is on trial in the killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin five days later outside a Home Deport store near Falls Church, Va. Other sniper killings have been introduced at both trials to show the defendants engaged in a terror plot to extort $10 million from the government.
Many of the families of other sniper victims attended part of the Muhammad trial. They took the stand to identify their loved ones, tell about their lives and hear evidence specific to their case. But then they would leave, while Snider would stay behind, never to be called to testify.
Yesterday afternoon, before she headed into the courtroom once more, she grabbed Bowman, took his hand and thanked him.
Helping come to peace
Legal experts said it's not altogether surprising that Bowman would want to see Malvo's trial, even after the emotional pounding he took during the Muhammad case. They said the teen-ager's trial may help Bowman come to peace with his decision last week to vote for Muhammad's death sentence.
"I can certainly understand how he would want to obtain as much additional information as possible concerning these questions that became so important to him," said Steven D. Benjamin, president-elect of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
"The dissatisfying thing about the Muhammad trial is we never got an answer," Benjamin said. "We saw the horror and the trauma with no explanation, and Malvo's trial has always offered the promise of truth.
"Here you have a juror who is responsible for Muhammad being sentenced to death. It's understandable he wants the answers he was denied in the Muhammad trial."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun