Two tipsters to split reward in sniper case

Muhammad friend shares with man who spotted car

March 20, 2004|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

An article in some Saturday editions of The Sun concerning the men who received a reward in the case of the Washington-area sniper should have noted that The Washington Post broke the story on its Web site late Friday night.

The $500,000 reward offered by the Montgomery County Police Department for providing information leading to the arrest of the Washington-area sniper suspects will be shared by two men - one in Washington state and the other in Pennsylvania.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan plans to announce today that Robert Holmes, a 47-year-old auto repairman from Tacoma, will receive $350,000. Whitney Donahue, a 38-year-old refrigerator repairman from Greencastle, will be awarded the remaining $150,000.

Holmes, who has an 8-year-old son, tipped off the FBI during the 2002 killing spree that his friend, John Allen Muhammad, might be the shooter.

Donahue, a father of three, spotted the Chevrolet Caprice being used by Muhammad and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, at a rest area in Frederick County on Oct. 24, 2002. Though at first he couldn't get through because of bad connections, he called police and remained on the phone with dispatchers for hours until police stormed the car and arrested both suspects.

A task force made up of local and federal law enforcement officials - from the Montgomery County and Fairfax, Va., county police departments, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among other agencies - voted Wednesday to award the money to Holmes and Donahue. The vote was unanimous.

The task force made its recommendation to Montgomery County's acting chief of police, Bill O'Toole, who then offered the same recommendation to Duncan. The county executive will announce the rewards at a noon news conference today in Rockville.

The money could be released to Holmes and Donahue as early as Monday, said a source close to the situation.

The $500,000 reward was begun with $50,000 in public funds from Montgomery County; much of the rest came from private donations. Police received some 60,000 tips regarding the shootings, which took 10 lives in and around the nation's capital.

Holmes, who met Muhammad when the two enlisted in the Army in 1985, testified during Muhammad's trial last year that he called the FBI on Oct. 15, 2002. Holmes said he became suspicious after seeing a television report about the Oct. 14 shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Falls Church, Va.

Holmes told the jury he had remembered visiting with Muhammad in Washington state before the shootings started and being introduced to Malvo, whom he said Muhammad introduced as "a sniper." Holmes testified that he remembered Muhammad carrying a Bushmaster rifle in a case in a duffel bag, and that he tried making a silencer for the rifle in Holmes' auto shop.

"After the lady was shot at the Home Depot, they showed on TV the weapon they thought they were using and said they were operating as a team," Holmes testified last November in Virginia Beach, Va. "That's why I called the FBI."

Reached last night at his Tacoma home, Holmes said that he had not been officially notified that he would be receiving $350,000 of the reward.

"No official from Montgomery County has told me," he said. "I figure when they get ready, they'll call me."

He said that he hasn't been sitting around thinking about how he might spend the money. He said he wished the whole sniper spree had never happened.

"John is my boy," he said. Of the killing spree for which Muhammad has been sentenced to death, he said: "I just think John was sick. It was just a bad period" for him.

Muhammad, 43, and Malvo, 19, were both convicted of two counts of capital murder last year in the deaths of Dean H. Meyers and Linda Franklin, respectively.

Muhammad has been sentenced to death; his execution is set for Oct. 14. Malvo was sentenced to life in prison.

Sun staff writer Arthur Hirsch contributed to this article.

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