Malvo likely won't be called to testify in Muhammad trial

Young sniper case suspect expected to take the Fifth

October 08, 2003|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

MANASSAS, Va. - Prosecutors do not plan to call Lee Boyd Malvo to testify at the trial of fellow sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad because Malvo has steadfastly refused to answer questions about his relationship with the older suspect.

Malvo was scheduled to appear at a pretrial hearing yesterday to answer questions from Muhammad's prosecutors. But after prosecutors determined that Malvo would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, they decided it wasn't worth calling him.

"It looked like it was just going to be a waste of everybody's time," said prosecutor James A. Willett. The prosecution team withdrew its motion to summon Malvo to testify in the case against Muhammad.

Muhammad's trial in the killing of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a gas station near Manassas is set to begin Tuesday in Virginia Beach, Va. Malvo faces his first trial next month in the killing of Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Falls Church Home Depot.

The pair is charged in all 13 sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington region last fall. Muhammad and Malvo appeared in court together for the first time last week, when Malvo was summoned by Muhammad's prosecutors to see if he would cooperate with their case.

But Malvo answered only biographical questions, refusing to even acknowledge he knew Muhammad in a court appearance that lasted less than 10 minutes. It was the first time the pair had seen each other since they were pulled from a blue Chevy Caprice and arrested Oct. 24.

Yesterday, Muhammad's lawyers criticized that fruitless appearance as a publicity stunt set up by the prosecution.

"That was an attempt to get Mr. Malvo in a courtroom with Mr. Muhammad so all of you people would come like lemmings," Muhammad attorney Peter D. Greenspun told reporters after yesterday's hearing.

Asked why prosecutors would want such a thing, Muhammad's other attorney, Jonathan Shapiro, said, "We think that's because they wanted there to be a public confrontation between the two gentlemen for however that benefits the commonwealth."

Also yesterday, Prince William Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Muhammad because law enforcement authorities had apparently granted interviews to two Washington Post reporters working on a book about the case.

The book, Sniper, was published last week and includes dozens of details that had not been disclosed to the defense or that should not have been made public, the defense attorneys argued. They said the authorities who spoke to the reporters violated a gag order imposed by the judge earlier this year.

The new information in the book includes dates, times and locations of calling-card telephone calls placed by Muhammad during the shootings; the names and accounts of witnesses who claim to have seen the suspects or their vehicle near shooting scenes; and fictitious names under which the suspects traveled.

"Somebody sat down with these reporters for hours and showed them evidence," Greenspun said. "They know more than we do. That's a sad state of affairs."

Shapiro added, "It's disappointing that law enforcement would show such incredible disregard for the court [gag] order. It's almost as though they're saying, `We all know he's guilty. Why even bother with a trial? Let's just execute him now.' "

But the judge said that because his gag order was not issued until May and was not signed until August, it would be hard to determine what information was provided in violation of the order. He said the court would just have to be very careful in selecting jurors given the immense amount of publicity.

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