Convicted sniper scouted sites for murder, prosecutors say
By By Stephen Kiehl and Gail Gibson
Nov 19, 2003 | 3:00 AM
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Prosecutors seeking the death penalty for John Allen Muhammad said yesterday that the Army veteran roamed from Maryland to North Carolina in an apparent hunt to locate dozens of targets for murder - a task he documented with meticulous precision on a laptop computer that listed several "good spots" for stealthy getaways.
Electronic maps discovered on the laptop showed the locations of three schools in Prince George's County - all close to the Bowie middle school where a 13-year-old boy was wounded - and included ominous notations at other places.
Notes next to two black dots marking locations in Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va., said "good spot." A notation over an address in Hampton, Va., not far from the trial site in Virginia Beach, said "possible hit, less ways out, disadvantage." And a note at an address in Norfolk, Va., said "good eastern move, many ways out."
Altogether, the maps showed 31 sites in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. The evidence presented yesterday during the sentencing phase of Muhammad's trial - he was found guilty of capital murder Monday - appeared to bring the case home to jurors in a new way.
The jurors clustered around video monitors displaying the maps and turned to each other and whispered when they saw one of the notations was in nearby Norfolk.
The Prince George's County schools on the map were Mary Harris "Mother" Jones Elementary in Hyattsville, Berwyn Heights Elementary in College Park and Rosaryville Elementary in Upper Marlboro.
Prosecutors expect to wrap up their sentencing case today with testimony from the family of Dean H. Meyers, who was killed at a Northern Virginia gas station on Oct. 9, 2002, and from Mildred Muhammad, the former wife of John Muhammad who secretly took their three children to Clinton in Prince George's County two years ago.
Mildred Muhammad stood outside the courtroom yesterday afternoon, and it appeared that prosecutors were ready to call her to testify. But because her testimony about the failed marriage and their anguished custody struggle is expected to be lengthy, Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. ended court early.
Millette said he expected the defense case to begin and end today, and he scheduled closing arguments in the sentencing phase for tomorrow morning. The case would then go to jurors, who must decide between two possible punishments - life in prison without parole or death by lethal injection.
Muhammad, 42, was convicted for his role in the sniper attacks that spread terror across the Washington region in October of last year as 10 people were killed and three wounded. His alleged accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, is on trial in Chesapeake, Va.
Prosecutors made small steps yesterday in explaining to jurors why Muhammad chose the Washington region for his sniper attacks. They have noted how his life unraveled when a judge awarded Mildred Muhammad full custody of the couple's three children and how finding her became an obsession.
Millette is not allowing prosecutors to tell jurors that one of Muhammad's motives was to eventually do harm to his former wife because, the judge said, there is no evidence of that. So the prosecutors have danced around the issue.
Yesterday, they called Earl Dancy of Tacoma, Wash., who knew Muhammad and let him stay at his home with Malvo for several weeks in early 2002. Dancy testified that Muhammad "loved [his children] to death" and was upset when Mildred Muhammad disappeared with them after she won custody.
Asked about Muhammad's feelings toward his former wife, Dancy said, "He said he loved her at one time." But Dancy said that changed. "He said she caused him to lose everything and that he was going to fix her."
The impression made by the testimony was unmistakable. But hours later, after lunch and on cross-examination, Dancy said he took the "fix her" comment to mean that John Muhammad was going to "fix her financially." It was not the only time Dancy contradicted himself on the stand.
After telling defense lawyer Jonathan Shapiro that he had "never pawned a gun," Dancy later admitted that he had done so at least nine times. An FBI report that Shapiro showed him apparently jogged his memory. Dancy has also gave differing accounts of his relationship with John Muhammad to various law enforcement authorities.
He told police in the Tacoma area that a .308-caliber rifle he owned had been stolen from his truck. Later he told authorities that he had bought the gun for Muhammad, who paid him $800 in cash to do so, and that Muhammad told him to report it stolen. On the stand, Dancy admitted to lying to authorities about the rifle on several occasions.
At the beginning of his cross-examination, Shapiro made his intentions clear: "Mr. Dancy, you're a liar. Is that correct?"
At times, the cross-examination was almost comical. At one point, Shapiro tried to nail down whether Dancy was being trained to be a gunsmith. An FBI report of an agent's interview with Dancy said that he was being trained. But on the stand, Dancy said, "He wasn't teaching me to be a gunsmith because he didn't have time."
"Oh?" Shapiro said.
"He was teaching me to be a gunsmith," Dancy said.
"So he was teaching you and he wasn't teaching you," Shapiro said.
"Yes," Dancy said.
The lengthy cross-examination cast doubt on Dancy's credibility, including one statement he made that Muhammad harbored anti-Semitic feelings. Dancy had testified that Muhammad called Jews "dirty people" and said Muhammad "actually respected Hitler in a way because he basically eliminated [Jews] or tried to eliminate them."
Prosecutors presented evidence yesterday that bullets fired into Temple Beth El in Tacoma came from one of Dancy's guns. Muhammad was staying with Dancy at the time and had free access to the guns.
Ballistics tests also linked one of Dancy's guns to the killing of Keenya Cook on Feb. 16, 2002, in Tacoma. Cook, 21, was shot in the face when she opened the front door of the home of her aunt, Isa Nichols, who had worked as a bookkeeper for Muhammad but sided with his former wife in the couple's bitter divorce and custody fight.
In an attempt to show Muhammad's potential for future danger, prosecutors put corrections officers on the stand to testify how Muhammad tried to escape this year from the jail in Prince William County, Va. The officers said they found Muhammad, who was supposed to be locked in a cell, hiding in a day room outside his cell, wearing a sheet wrapped around his waist.