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Sniper prosecution continues

Sniper shootings coverage
Brought into the courtroom and nattily attired in a beige suit from the closet of one of his standby lawyers, sniper John Allen Muhammad greeted the judge, lawyers and court personnel yesterday: "Good morning, everyone."

Muhammad's familiarity, as he began the second week of his trial here on six murder charges stemming from the October 2002 sniper shootings, echoes the way many attorneys begin a court session.

He has begun much of his cross-examination of witnesses with an even-toned "How are you doing?" before questioning them about exactly what they saw or heard.

"Ma'am, we are trying to find out some facts," he said as he started questioning pediatrician Caroline Namrow, who testified about trying to save the life of Premkumar Walekar after the man was fatally shot while pumping gasoline into his taxicab shortly after 8 a.m. Oct. 3, 2002.

He questioned a Montgomery County police officer at length about the location of yellow crime scene tape at that Mobil station, though it was unclear why, before reaching what have been his signature questions of prosecution witnesses, asking if they have direct knowledge of the sniper shots.

"You don't know who shot this person?" he asked Paul Kukucka, a Montgomery County patrol officer who was waved over to that gas station by a frantic Namrow.

"No," the officer replied.

Muhammad succeeded on a few minor points, such as getting permission, over the objection of Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree, to enter into evidence a photo showing the flat rooftop of a building near that gas station, which had a few police evidence flags on it. But Kukucka said he did not know anything about the photo. At another point, Muhammad pointed to a gap in the hedge bordering the parking lot across the road from the gas station.

Unspoken was the sense that it was a place that could have provided a clear shooting sight across the road from a car parked there, though why Muhammad drew attention to it was unclear.

Yesterday was the second day of testimony by prosecution witnesses. Muhammad, 45, is representing himself with the help of three standby lawyers from Baltimore, having fired his public defenders about a month ago when they contended he was too mentally ill to stand trial. Convicted in another sniper shooting in Virginia and sentenced to death there, he could get six life prison terms if convicted of the Montgomery County charges.

The sniper shootings caused a three-week reign of terror, leaving 10 of the 13 victims in the Washington area dead, six of them in Montgomery County.

Muhammad told jurors in his opening statement Thursday that he and Lee Boyd Malvo, then a teenager, were driving around the Washington area to look for Muhammad's three children, lost to his ex-wife in a custody fight. He said he is not guilty. Malvo, who is serving sentences of life without parole in the Virginia sniper shootings, might testify against Muhammad.

Testimony laying out five of the fatal shootings - the ones that occurred within 20 hours on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3 - was largely over by the end of yesterday, and each offered a sad story of ordinary people in ordinary activities cut down, and the sadness of their relatives, also ordinary people doing ordinary things when they learned of the homicides.

Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Mary Ripple tied the five shootings together with graphic autopsy information and X-rays. Questioned by Winfree, Ripple held the fatalities together by the nature of the wounds - a dime-sized bullet entry wound and a gaping exit hole, or the internal "lead snowstorm" of a fragmenting bullet. She is to resume testifying today, over complaints by Muhammad alleging she lacks expertise.

Andrea Walekar, daughter of the victim at the Mobil station, testified that the family learned of his death by seeing his cab on television at their Olney home, having been unable to reach him on his cell phone. She and her mother rushed to the Mobil station, only to learn that an ambulance had taken him to a hospital. They went there and learned he was dead.

Relatives of Premkumar Walekar wept as they listened to graphic descriptions of the final moments of his life, saw photos on a large screen that showed his blood at the Aspen Hill gas station where he was slain and heard Ripple testify about his injuries.

Namrow described a chaotic scene at the Mobil station. After she stopped there shortly before 8:10 a.m., her eyes were drawn to a man pumping gas into a hole beneath a cab's license plate. She had never seen the opening for a gas tank in that location, she testified in a clipped British accent. She was about to get out of her minivan "and then I heard a very large bang," she told the jury. The man started walking toward her van.

"He said 'Call an ambulance,' and he collapsed, Namrow said. After Walekar fell by her van, she grabbed her cell phone and called 911 before finding a weak pulse.

"He looked upwards. I told him, 'You're going to be all right,'" she testified, later explaining that she said it even though she knew that, given the amount of blood loss, his shallow breathing and weakening pulse, his chance of survival was "basically none." She started CPR, assisted by Kukucka. She described a chaotic scene in which she yelled for ambulance workers who arrived to help clear his airway and provide oxygen.

A rescue worker testified that during a consultation from the ambulance en route to the hospital, a Montgomery General Hospital physician told him to cease life support efforts after he explained that Walekar was unresponsive to the efforts to save him.

Muhammad again asked the judge to dismiss the jury or move the trial, claiming that the jurors are biased. Judge James L. Ryan denied his motions.

The judge also denied Muhammad's request to force prosecutors to put his blue Chevrolet Caprice back the way they say they found it. The car, which prosecutors said was a mobile sniper's lair with a homemade gunport cut in the trunk, is expected to be viewed by the jury as prosecutors continue the case.

• Montgomery County prosecutors wrapped up the descriptions of the five fatal shootings that occurred Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, 2002

• Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad questioned more prosecution witnesses, asking if they knew where shots came from and if they saw who fired them

• Judge James L. Ryan denied Muhammad's motion to put his Chevrolet Caprice back just as authorities found it when they apprehended him and Lee Boyd Malvo, his accomplice.

Today: Deputy Medical Examiner Mary Ripple will continue her testimony.