Lee Boyd Malvo, the young Jamaican prosecuted as John Allen Muhammad's accomplice in a deadly sniper rampage in 2002, has provided information to police in recent months, indicating that a deal might be close for Malvo to testify against the man who still calls him "my son."
From the witness stand yesterday, Montgomery County Police Sgt. Roger Thomson acknowledged that Malvo, now 21, has been cooperating in the prosecution of Muhammad, whose trial on six murder charges is in its third week.
Sources close to the sniper cases have said that Malvo is likely to testify for prosecutors, providing fresh details about crimes and implicating Muhammad, and had spoken to police and prosecutors this spring. But Thomson's words provided the first public admission that Malvo has implicated the man who was once his Svengali.
The veteran investigator's testimony came after Muhammad asked him on cross-examination - as he has asked many other prosecution witnesses - if Thomson had "personal knowledge" of who planned or carried out the 13 sniper shootings in the Washington area that claimed 10 lives during October 2002. Thomson replied that he did not.
But then Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree, who had previously questioned Thomson, followed up with Thomson based on Muhammad's line of questions.
"Since, I would say, March of 2006, have you now received information ... " she began. Muhammad, acting as his own lawyer, interrupted with an objection, but Montgomery County Circuit Judge James L. Ryan hushed him.
" ... From someone who has had personal knowledge about the involvement of Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo?" she asked.
"Yes," Thomson said.
"And who is that person?" Winfree continued.
"Lee Boyd Malvo," Thomson replied.
Asked whether he had spoken with Malvo, Thomson said he had.
"And has he provided information, personal information, about his and Mr. Muhammad's involvement in these shootings?" she asked.
"Yes, he has," Thomson said.
Leaving the witness stand, Thomson grinned at prosecutors as he walked past them on his way out of the courtroom.
The questioning sounded like a "trailer to a movie," said Scott E. Sundby, a Washington & Lee University law professor, later adding, "It makes me think they may have an arrangement with Malvo."
However, he said, unless prosecutors call Malvo, they are flirting with the outer limit of permissible questioning because Muhammad has a right to confront an accuser.
But former federal prosecutor and University of Maryland law professor Abraham Dash said that because Muhammad opened the door to Winfree's questions, he probably cannot successfully challenge the responses.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that Malvo will testify. But it does mean he might," Dash said.
Malvo, who is serving life sentences without parole for sniper shootings in Virginia, is scheduled to go on trial in Montgomery County in October. But a source close to the case has said that a plea here would still give him the maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Malvo's lawyer could not be reached for comment yesterday.
White box trucks
In Malvo's 2003 trial in Virginia, his lawyers contended that Malvo was an innocent youth so brainwashed by Muhammad that he should not be held criminally responsible for his murderous actions. Malvo, now 21, is serving life prison terms in Virginia for three sniper shootings, two fatal.
Muhammad, 45, was sentenced to execution in Virginia for another of the sniper slayings. The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to hear his appeal. However, he has another avenue of appeal open to him on constitutional and procedural grounds.
Muhammad also latched onto the many reports of white box trucks in the area in fall 2002. During the series of shootings, police said they were looking for a white box van, based on a report of one seen leaving a shooting scene, and the public responded with a barrage of sightings. Muhammad was apparently trying to show that his dark blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice was not reported at crime scenes at the time - though Thomson noted that a vehicle fitting the general description of his car was reported at an Oct. 3, 2002, sniper slaying in Northwest Washington.
Today in court, the Oct. 24, 2002, arrest of Muhammad and Malvo at a rest stop near Frederick is expected to be detailed. It is likely that jurors will see the Caprice, which was modified to include a gunport in the trunk and which prosecutors have called a mobile snipers' lair.