Survivor calls being shot `worst fear come true'

Victim of sniper outside Va. restaurant testifies in Muhammad trial

May 12, 2006|By ANDREA F. SIEGEL AND JULIE SCHARPER | ANDREA F. SIEGEL AND JULIE SCHARPER,SUN REPORTERS

ROCKVILLE -- The third survivor of the Washington-area sniper shootings told a rapt jury yesterday that he and his wife were walking to their car after a pleasant dinner when he heard "an explosion or something" and, moments later, realized that his worst fear had just come true.

Despite avoiding a stop close to Washington because of sniper shootings in the area - and choosing instead a spot near Richmond to get gas and food - Jeffrey Hopper was shot in the abdomen.

"Oh my God, I've been shot," Hopper, 42, of Melbourne, Fla., recalled thinking as he looked down in disbelief to realize that his hand was on his wound. "It was the worst fear come true."

Hopper testified on the fifth day of the trial of John Allen Muhammad, who is charged with six sniper-style killings in Montgomery County in October 2002. Prosecutors are presenting evidence about shootings outside Montgomery County to establish the pattern of sniper killings.

If convicted, Muhammad, 45, could be sentenced to multiple life terms in prison. He was sentenced to death in Virginia after being convicted of another sniper killing there in 2003.

Hopper was shot just before 8 p.m. Oct. 19, 2002, outside the Ponderosa restaurant off Interstate 95 in Ashland, Va., as he and his wife were about to get into their white Cadillac and drive home. They had visited relatives near Philadelphia.

Hopper said they were concerned enough about the sniper shootings, which began Oct. 2, 2002, that "we intentionally gassed up the car to get past the D.C. area."

After being shot, he testified, he lay down on the pavement outside the restaurant.

"I told Stephanie that I loved her," he said, then the couple prayed.

His severe internal wounds cost him most of his stomach and half of his pancreas, and caused other damage.

Tiny bullet fragments from what medical experts call a lead snowstorm pattern give him a "glowing X-ray" he said.

Those wounds were attributed in Muhammad's Virginia trial to the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle that was found in Muhammad's car when he and teenager Lee Boyd Malvo - who was convicted in Virginia as the junior member of the sniper team - were arrested Oct. 24, 2002.

Muhammad, who is representing himself, did not cross-examine Hopper or his wife, who also testified for the prosecution.

On the heels of the couple's account, jurors saw the note that officers of the Hanover County, Va., sheriff's office said they found tacked to a tree in nearby woods. It demanded $10 million to call a halt to the shootings that had been going on for more than two weeks, closing with the bone-chilling warning: "Your children are not safe anywhere at anytime."

On Oct. 7, a Bowie middle school student had been shot after being dropped off by his aunt. He survived, and testified this week, as did a woman who survived a sniper shooting in Spotsylvania County, Va.

The Hopper shooting, like others outside the county that prosecutors presented this week, are key to their methodical case, as they endeavor, through expert witnesses, to show patterns, DNA and fingerprints linking all the shootings to Muhammad. In the Washington area, 13 people were shot, 10 of them fatally, during three weeks that October.

Next week, the final sniper shooting - that of Ride On bus driver Conrad E. Johnson on Oct. 22, as he stood in the doorway of his bus - will be depicted to the jury, as will Muhammad's arrest.

Jurors also listened to a recording of William "Ted" Franklin hyperventilating and hysterically crying as he told a 911 operator that his wife, FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, had just been shot in the head.

Franklin struggled to describe the nightmare of seeing his wife struck as they loaded packages into their car in the parking lot of a Home Depot just outside Falls Church, Va., early in the evening of Oct. 14, 2002.

The bullet sprayed blood and other matter onto the couple's car, testified Jeffrey Miller, a crime scene detective with the Fairfax County Police Department. Miller said he also found valuable clues on the vehicle parked next to them - a bullet mark on the window and a bullet fragment under a piece of rubber combing.

Tempers in the courtroom flared as Muhammad raised five objections to Miller's testimony.

Another heated exchange took place yesterday between one of Muhammad's standby lawyers and prosecutors just before court adjourned, when Muhammad failed again to have Judge James L. Ryan approve out-of-state witness subpoenas. He missed filing deadlines.

His Baltimore standby attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said the ruling "gutted" Muhammad's defense and would result in an appeals court overturning a guilty verdict, a prediction that did not phase the longtime judge.andrea.siegel@baltsun.com julie.scharper@baltsun.com

Developments

The last of three victims to survive sniper shootings in the October 2002 rampage in the Washington area, Jeffrey Hopper, described walking hand-in-hand with his wife when a bullet pierced his abdomen - his "worst fear come true" - in Ashland, Va.

Jurors heard the hysterical cries of the husband of sniper victim Linda Franklin in a recording of his 911 call from a Home Depot parking lot near Falls Church, Va.

Tensions rose in the courtroom, culminating in exchanges between the prosecution and defense that were so vituperative that the judge told the participants to calm down and sit down - and included a warning to Muhammad not to "get personal" in remarks about the prosecutor. The jury was not present.

Today: The trial is not in session.

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