Muhammad lists 178 potential defense witnesses

Man defending himself in sniper trial starts with partner Malvo

much of the information is incomplete

April 07, 2006|By ANDREA F. SIEGEL | ANDREA F. SIEGEL,SUN REPORTER

Rockville -- Sniper John Allen Muhammad submitted yesterday a handwritten list of 178 potential defense witnesses for his Montgomery County murder trial, starting the list with Lee Boyd Malvo, the youth convicted of being his partner in the 2002 shooting rampage that terrorized the Washington area.

Muhammad's list contains names he said were distinct from the 354 that prosecutors have supplied to the court as relevant to the case, and he told Circuit Judge James L. Ryan that he probably would have names to add.

Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree said she expects to call about 100 people as witnesses in the trial scheduled to start May 1.

Muhammad, 45, is charged with six counts of murder in Montgomery County in the October 2002 random shooting rampage that claimed 10 lives in the Washington area - and placed millions of people in fear that they might be next in the sniper's cross-hairs.

On death row in Virginia for a murder in that state, he could be sentenced to life without parole if convicted in Maryland.

Malvo, 21, was convicted in Virginia of being the junior member of the sniper team and is serving a life sentence without parole. He is scheduled for trial in Montgomery County this fall. His lawyer, William C. Brennan Jr., could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Muhammad's list of potential witnesses appeared to be a conglomeration of local and federal law enforcement officials in several states, individuals from around the country whose ties to the case were not readily apparent, and people whose addresses were near some of the sniper shooting scenes. Much of the information is incomplete, such as only last names and job titles - but no location - or with Social Security numbers or telephone numbers. Several of the phone numbers are out of date.

Among those on the list is "Mis. LaRuffe," with the telephone number of the Clinton restaurant of Paul LaRuffa. LaRuffa was repeatedly shot at close range on Sept. 5, 2002 - police believe by Malvo - after closing his restaurant, Margellina's.

LaRuffa's laptop computer and briefcase containing several thousand dollars were stolen, the recovered laptop showing the snipers' routes and the cash used toward financing their ventures, prosecutors and police have said. Asked by telephone if Muhammad perhaps wanted to subpoena his wife, LaRuffa replied, "This is on the list of crazy things. It's obviously not true." LaRuffa is on the prosecution's list.

Muhammad submitted the list to Ryan at a hearing yesterday, having fired his public defenders last week so that he can represent himself. He has maintained that he is innocent, and in court he often speaks of himself in the third person.

The judge has been trying to find private attorneys to serve as standby counsel with no pay to provide advice to Muhammad. Ryan said one two-lawyer team is considering it. Another lawyer initially said he might be interested but has taken himself out of consideration.

One result of Muhammad's recent request to act as his own lawyer has been his insistence that he lacks necessary information for his defense, which Winfree told Ryan is a ploy by Muhammad to win the trial delay he previously sought but was denied.

Prosecutors said they turned over 28 tapes, 41 CDs, 2,000 pages of paper and one DVD with more than 30,000 pages of information to the public defenders, who also photographed evidence over two weeks and had access to other prosecution material. Ryan told Muhammad that whatever his public defenders chose as important is what is available to him, as Ryan will not reopen that pretrial process.

"Your Honor, it's sad. But I really understand that," Muhammad said.

Muhammad said he was distressed that notices sent to 1,000 prospective jurors asked about their availability for five weeks. He said the trial could take much longer and that he did not want the jury to be angry at him over a promised trial duration. That, Ryan said, would not be an issue, as prospective jurors will be questioned individually when they are brought to court.

Muhammad is due back in court for another pretrial hearing near the end of the month.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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