Sniper case expands as police arrest man

Musician co-owned car with shootings suspect

Wash. killing investigated

October 27, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Authorities tracked a man who co-owned the car believed to have been used in the string of sniper attacks in the Washington region to a house in Flint, Mich., where he was arrested yesterday as a witness in the building case against an Army veteran and a Jamaican teen-ager.

Federal agents detained the man, Nathanel O. Osbourne, on a material witness warrant and held him for questioning in Michigan while investigators across the country continued piecing together the trail of suspects John Allen Muhammad, 41, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 17.

In Washington state, Tacoma police were investigating whether a handgun seized from Muhammad after the arrests in the sniper case could tie him to the unsolved killing in February of a young Tacoma woman whose aunt had worked at Muhammad's auto-repair business in the mid-1990s.

Authorities in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., fanned out yesterday checking motels and rest stops, homeless shelters and gas stations to re-create Muhammad and Malvo's path during the three-week period of sniper attacks that left 10 people dead and three wounded.

The last of the 10 victims, Montgomery County bus driver Conrad E. Johnson, was buried yesterday after funeral services in Landover. Many of his colleagues turned out in uniform, their hands over their hearts. Johnson, a 35-year-old father of two, was shot and killed early Tuesday as he prepared for his daily route.

Special Agent Gary M. Bald, who heads the FBI's Baltimore office, said in an interview Friday that the next step for investigators, now that the two sniper suspects are in custody, will be to build an airtight account of the suspects' movements, motivations and actions.

"Now that we have, through the gun, focused what our efforts are in a couple of directions, we've got a lot of things to do," Bald said.

One priority for investigators was catching up with Osbourne, an aspiring reggae musician from Jamaica who lived most recently in an apartment above the All Nations Lounge in Camden, N.J., but whom police had been unable to locate since authorities connected the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice he co-owned with Muhammad to the sniper attacks.

Osbourne is not considered a suspect in the case. The warrant for his arrest said it is "believed he can provide law enforcement officers with valuable information regarding this case."

The warrant also described Osbourne as driving a 1992 Honda Accord, but it is his ties to the Caprice that interest investigators. Records and interviews show that Osbourne and Muhammad bought the roomy sedan, previously used as an undercover police vehicle for a New Jersey police department, on Sept. 11 at Sure Shot Auto Sales Inc. in Trenton, N.J.

Muhammad and Malvo were arrested before dawn Thursday as they slept in the Chevrolet at an Interstate 70 rest stop in Frederick County. While searching the car, police found a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle that authorities say has been linked to 11 of the 14 shootings in the sniper attacks and a "gunport" rigged in the back of the car to enable a gunman to shoot from inside of the trunk.

Muhammad and Osbourne bought the Caprice for $250 and registered the car in New Jersey using the address of the All Nations Lounge, 1400 Sheridan St., in Camden. The owner of the restaurant, Michael Clark, said in a brief interview yesterday that he did not think Osbourne had any idea the car was being used in the sniper attacks.

"I think he'll do most of his own talking from here, but I really think he had no idea about the shooting," Clark said.

In a financial affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Muhammad listed the value of the Caprice at $600. The only other possession of value he listed was a laptop computer, which he said was worth $2,000.

Muhammad and Malvo are being held in federal custody in Baltimore, Muhammad on a federal firearms charge and Malvo as a material witness. Montgomery County prosecutors brought the first murder charges in the sniper attacks late Friday, issuing warrants charging each of the men with first-degree murder in connection with six of the shooting deaths.

Federal prosecutors also are weighing whether to bring charges against the men, and authorities in Virginia are expected to pursue their own murder cases as well. Left unresolved over the weekend is which jurisdiction would take the men to trial first; a federal prosecution would take precedence over any of the potential state cases.

In Chicago yesterday, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan acknowledged that Muhammad is a member of his religious group. But Farrakhan told reporters at an afternoon news conference that reports that Muhammad had provided security at the Million Man March in Washington were false.

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