Case against Muhammad builds

Sniper shootings coverage
As forensic evidence mounts against the pair that authorities say were the 2002 sniper team, Lee Boyd Malvo is due in a courtroom here this morning, expected to testify that John Allen Muhammad brainwashed him into joining in a murderous rampage.

Malvo, 21, is to be among the last prosecution witnesses in the six-count murder trial of Muhammad, 45, in Montgomery County.

Sources close to the case have said that a remorseful Malvo is likely to testify against his former mentor - for the first time publicly telling his own story about the shootings that left 10 dead and three injured in the Washington area. He is expected to plead guilty to the same six slayings in Montgomery County, according to the sources. A gag order bars lawyers in Muhammad's case from commenting.

If Malvo testifies as expected, he will confront Muhammad from across the courtroom. For security reasons, the judge is requiring that Muhammad, who is representing himself, pose questions from behind the defense table. Muhammad is representing himself, with limited advice from standby lawyers.

Two people who know Malvo but requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case said Malvo, who met Muhammad when he was 15 and was arrested with him at 17, now believes that Muhammad brainwashed him. He regrets their murderous cross-country journey and will get personal satisfaction from testifying against Muhammad, the sources said.

In court, Malvo is expected to admit only to pulling the trigger in the final sniper killing in the county, that of bus driver Conrad E. Johnson on Oct. 22, 2002 - something his defense psychologists said at Malvo's 2003 trial that he told them. Shortly after his arrest, Malvo told police in Virginia that he fired most if not all the shots over the three-week reign of terror.

Malvo is serving life in prison without parole for three Virginia shootings, two fatal; he is expected to receive the same sentence in Montgomery County. Muhammad is on death row in Virginia for one sniper slaying, of Dean H. Meyers.

As testimony about physical evidence continues to tie Malvo and Muhammad to the shootings and as prosecutors try to stymie him, Muhammad has voiced frustration.

"If that continues to happen," Muhammad told Judge James L. Ryan, "you could have the trial without me and send me the verdict in the mail." He complained that the judge's actions will prevent him from calling witnesses necessary to his defense.

Prosecutors showed jurors evidence that suggested the shootings were planned and recorded on a laptop computer and personal organizer found in Muhammad's car when he and Malvo were arrested Oct. 24, 2002.

Skulls and crossbones mark murder scenes on maps saved on the computer, John Hair, an FBI computer expert, testified.

The Falls Church Home Depot where FBI analyst Linda Franklin was fatally shot in the head Oct. 14, 2002, as she loaded packages into her car with her husband was labeled "good one."

Oladell Martin, sister of sniper victim James D. Martin, put her hand to her mouth when she saw the skull and crossbones over the Aspen Hill Shoppers Food Warehouse where her brother was killed Oct. 2, 2002.

Other maps trace routes between consecutive shootings and identify potential killing sites with comments such as "Good spot off 95."

Another file found on the computer reads like a rough draft of the notes demanding money that were left at three of the shootings.

In his cross-examination of Hair, Muhammad brought up another crime to which he and Malvo have been linked - the shooting and robbery of restaurant owner Paul LaRuffa. In Muhammad's Virginia sniper trial, the laptop found in Muhammad's car was identified as having been stolen from LaRuffa, along with $3,600, when he was wounded Sept. 5, 2002, outside his Clinton restaurant.

Montgomery County prosecutors did not tell the jury anything about LaRuffa's shooting.

"Sir, can you tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury how a computer belonging to Mr. Paul LaRuffa got into my vehicle?" Muhammad asked Hair, as observers burst out laughing.

Witnesses testified that they found Muhammad's and Malvo's fingerprints on a book of maps of Baltimore City and Baltimore County left behind near the spot where Meyers was shot.

Malvo's fingerprints were also found on a raisin bag dropped at a Virginia sniper shooting scene and a weapons catalog left behind at a killing in Alabama, a fingerprint expert testified. The .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle found in Muhammad's car was also marked with Malvo's prints, an expert said.

In his questioning, Muhammad brought up the possibility that the computer could have been planted in his car, and that the rifle could have been taken apart and that a portion of it could have been touched by Malvo long after the shootings.

• Lee Boyd Malvo's testimony is delayed until today as prosecutors continue to present forensic evidence linking him and John Allen Muhammad to the 2002 sniper shootings.

• An FBI analyst says that evidence culled from a laptop computer taken from Muhammad's 1990 Chevrolet Caprice contains mapping software used to mark murder sites with skull and crossbones, routes linking the shootings, and comments on the value of potential shooting sites.

• For the third day, Muhammad and prosecutor Vivek Chopra raise their voices at each other, as Muhammad complains that the judge is siding with the prosecution as it tries to thwart his defense.

TODAY: Malvo is expected to appear in court to speak against the man who, though not related to him, still calls him "my son."