Sniper could face Malvo

Prosecutors seek deal that would put Muhammad's companion on stand


ROCKVILLE -- John Allen Muhammad would get to confront the youth he used to refer to as "my son" and "sniper" during an alleged murderous rampage in 2002 under terms of a deal that prosecutors are trying to work out with lawyers for Lee Boyd Malvo, according to sources.

Montgomery County prosecutors want Malvo, now 21, to testify against Muhammad in coming weeks - setting up the dramatic spectacle of Muhammad, who is acting as his own attorney, cross-examining Malvo on the witness stand. It would be the first time that Malvo has taken the stand to publicly discuss the siege that terrorized the Washington area.

An agreement would call for Malvo to plead guilty to the same six Montgomery County killings for which Muhammad is on trial and accept sentences of life without parole, a source familiar with the cases said. Sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions, said Malvo and his attorneys have spoken with prosecutors.

Malvo's lawyers did not return telephone calls, and prosecutors declined to comment.

"We are not going to comment on any of the evidence that may or may not be presented during the course of the trial," said State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler.

Malvo's appearance would not only mean a confrontation between the two halves of what prosecutors in Virginia called a killing team when both were convicted in that state, but would likely feature Malvo being pressed about the inconsistent admissions he made to Virginia authorities and to experts who testified in 2003 that he was mentally ill.

"His character would definitely be on trial," said J. Wyndal Gordon, one of three Baltimore lawyers acting as standby counsel for Muhammad. Still, he said, the 45-year-old Muhammad "harbors no ill will" against Malvo.

"In Maryland, he is going to make a jury listen because he was there," said Abraham Dash, a University of Maryland law professor who is a former federal prosecutor.

Told that Muhammad could be questioning Malvo, Dash said, "That's ridiculous."

He said that even if Malvo's past inconsistencies are brought out, prosecutors have nothing to lose by having him offer a first-person account of the shootings, efforts to instill fear in millions of people and extortion demands.

Malvo has worked with prosecutors before. After he was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to life without parole for a sniper slaying in Fairfax County, Va., he pleaded guilty in 2004 to two sniper shootings in Spotsylvania County, Va., and was given a life term. His lawyers in Virginia said he was prepared to plead guilty and testify against Muhammad in 2003, but the deal with Prince William County prosecutors collapsed.

Muhammad was convicted of capital murder in that trial and sentenced to death. That is on appeal.

Sources said Malvo, whose lawyers said he was brainwashed by Muhammad while the elder acted as a father figure, has come to see Muhammad in a different light.

The sniper shooting rampage turned the Washington area into a ghost town for three weeks in October 2002, as 13 people were shot, 10 of them fatally. Hundreds of thousands of students were kept indoors as people zig-zagged through parking lots, were afraid to pump gas, and stopped going to outdoor events.

Six of the deaths were in Montgomery County. Authorities in Alabama and Louisiana want to try Muhammad and Malvo for murders there, and officials suspect them in others in Georgia and Washington State.

Gordon said Muhammad was not shocked to hear that Malvo might testify against him and is gearing up to deal with it.

"Let's just say he is prepared to question Mr. Malvo," said Gordon, who was appointed as a standby lawyer after Muhammad fired the public defenders who were representing him. They alleged that the Gulf War veteran was too mentally ill to stand trial.

Muhammad had included Malvo on his list of potential witnesses. Prosecutors had indicated that they might call the Jamaican-born Malvo as a witness, Gordon said.

Legally, the stage could already be set for Malvo to testify for prosecutors, as he and Muhammad are not being tried together. Malvo's trial here is scheduled for October.

"He's not going to be the star witness for the prosecution," Gordon said. "If the prosecution's case depended on Malvo, the case would not be strong at all."

Malvo told mental health experts for his defense that he was the shooter in two slayings, the experts testified in his 2003 trial. Those were the killing in Washington state of the niece of a woman who testified against Muhammad in a bitter custody dispute with his ex-wife, and Conrad E. Johnson, the Fort Washington bus driver who became the final sniper victim on Oct. 22, 2002 as he prepared to start his bus route in Montgomery County.

But he told investigators that he carried out almost all the sniper shootings.

Lawyers said Malvo could be an effective, if eerie, witness for the prosecution, even if Muhammad asks him about his inconsistent statements.

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