The subtle but unmistakable power struggle between John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo continued yesterday in the Montgomery County courtroom where Muhammad is on trial for six sniper murders.

Muhammad and Malvo, who once thought of each other as family, were generally polite in their exchanges, but glimpses into their bizarre relationship and the tension between them were apparent in offhand remarks, quizzical looks, repeated questions and exasperated interruptions.

When Muhammad, who is already under a death sentence in Virginia for a sniper shooting and is acting as his own lawyer here, addressed Malvo as "son," the younger man objected: "I prefer you to address me as Mr. Malvo."

Despite Malvo's request, Muhammad addressed Malvo as "son" several more times, though he said it was inadvertent.

Malvo gave Muhammad dubious squints when the defendant's questions were rambling or unclear. At one point he shook his head and with a skeptical look said, "What are you talking about?"

While Malvo seemed to be establishing emotional distance with his desire for formality, Muhammad was intent on revisiting their former bond and the controlling teacher-student roles they once played.

He pelted Malvo with questions about guns, gun parts, aiming and shooting - at times sounding almost as if he were a drill sergeant or instructor.

The exchange resembled some of the previous day's cross-examination when Muhammad, 45, asked Malvo whether he had a good memory.

'The last time we played basketball, who won?" the Persian Gulf War veteran asked.

"You," Malvo replied.

'The last time we ran a half a mile, who won?" Muhammad asked.

"You."

"The last time we ran five miles, who won?"

"You."

Occasionally yesterday, Muhammad mocked his former acolyte. One line of questioning suggested that if Malvo had been the "spotter" at the 2002 Washington-area shootings, as he testified, he didn't do a very good job because he was unable to remember certain details about the scenes.

"Do you know what selective memory is?" Muhammad asked before the prosecutor interrupted with an objection that was sustained.

Malvo's testimony provided a view into other aspects of the men's relationship. Malvo testified that after he questioned how Muhammad could have a white girlfriend while arguing that the white man was "the devil," Muhammad ended the romantic relationship.

In response to a series of questions Muhammad asked about his biological children, Malvo said his mentor treated them all equally. Malvo said he loved Muhammad's kids as siblings.

"When I asked you to take care of my family did I indoctrinate you?" Muhammad asked.

"Then, no," said Malvo. At his Virginia trial, Malvo's lawyers claimed he was brainwashed into taking part in the shootings that killed 10 and wounded three.

Queried about whether he is benefiting from an agreement to plead guilty to six killings in Montgomery County, Malvo said, swiping the air for emphasis, "I'm not a lawyer." Frustration seemed to edge into his voice.

"Let me understand this. You made a plea deal with no benefit to you at all?" Muhammad said.

"That is correct," Malvo responded.

The prosecutor, as she wrapped up, returned to the question Muhammad had raised about whether he had treated Malvo differently from his biological children.

There was a difference, Malvo said: "Mr. Muhammad did not use any of his biological sons to murder other people."

rona.marech@baltsun.com