In the hectic first days after sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested last fall, federal prosecutors in Baltimore were uncertain of the younger man's true identity, nationality or age, court records unsealed yesterday show.
The records also show that Malvo, then 17, offered little help, refusing to speak with investigators or pretrial services officers who could have determined whether he would have been a candidate to be released on bail.
U.S. Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar unsealed many of the records relating to Malvo's tightly guarded juvenile case in Maryland's federal court yesterday, three months after The Sun and three other news organizations sought their release.
The released documents, totaling 84 pages, include a transcript of a closed Nov. 4 detention hearing, a hearing on the news media's request for access to proceedings in Malvo's case, several judicial orders and attorney correspondence.
Federal charges in Maryland against Malvo and Muhammad were dismissed in November when U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft determined that the men would stand trial first in Virginia.
Malvo faces a November death penalty trial in Fairfax County, Va., where he is charged with murder in the death of an FBI analyst outside a Home Depot store.
The records unsealed yesterday offered little new information about Malvo or the sniper investigation. Bredar had indicated that he would release only information from the file that had already been revealed in other court proceedings in Maryland or Virginia.
About 70 lines in the records were redacted.
A transcript of the detention hearing indicates that Malvo was present - "I see him, and he appears to be alert and awake, looking right at me, and his eyes are blinking," Bredar says for the record at the outset of the hearing - but remained silent.
During the same proceeding, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Copperthite said authorities were scrambling to determine Malvo's true identity.
"We have not been able to positively identify who this person is," Copperthite said. "We have not been able to identify this person by any particular witness. In fact, as to the age of this person, there is some conflicting evidence."
Authorities zeroed in on Malvo's identity based on a photograph and fingerprint evidence on file from an immigration violation in Washington state, Copperthite said.
Copperthite said authorities did not know the nature of the relationship between Malvo and Muhammad, but raised it as one example of the potential risk Malvo posed to himself, as well as the community.
"I think the fact that he has associated himself with an adult who has been driving around the country living out of a car shows that he is a danger to himself," the prosecutor said.
Malvo's court-appointed attorney in Baltimore, Joshua R. Treem, did not challenge the government's effort to detain Malvo during the Nov. 4 hearing, noting that Malvo already faced detainment for the immigration violation.
Three days later, the government dismissed the federal case and Malvo was transferred to Virginia. He has been jailed since then in Fairfax County, where on Tuesday he celebrated his 18th birthday.