Victims testify in sniper trial

A New Jersey car salesman Wednesday recounted selling sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad the car that has been described in a Virginia Beach courtroom as a killing platform.

Christopher O’Kupski told Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert that when he sold Muhammad a blue 1990 Chevy Caprice, the car didn’t have a hole in the trunk over the license plate. He also said it had hubcaps, and the side windows weren’t tinted. O’Kupski described seeing Muhammad with “his whole head in the trunk.”

Defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun, whom Muhammad rehired Wednesday, asked O’Kupski if it was normal for people buying used cars to look in the trunk.

“Yeah, but they don’t lay down in it,” O’Kupski replied.

Millette told jurors to disregard the remark, since it was unclear if O’Kupski or another employee had actually seen Muhammad examining the Caprice’s trunk.

Muhammad came to O’Kupski’s Sure Shot Auto Sales with Nathaniel Osbourne, who had previously purchased a car there. O’Kupski said Muhammad was described as the Jamaican Osbourne’s uncle, who was buying a car for his son.

O’Kupski tried to interest Muhammad in another, more expensive car, but Muhammad was only interested in the Caprice. O’Kupski had purchased it from the Bordentown, N.J., correctional center, and it had been used previously as an undercover police car. O’Kupski never saw the son Muhammad was buying the car for. On Sept. 9, 2002, Muhammad drove the car off O’Kupski’s lot and O’Kupski never saw him again.

Lee Boyd Malvo, who Muhammad referred to as his son while representing himself in court Monday and Tuesday, was identified by two more witnesses Wednesday: an Alabama man who said he chased Malvo after he shot two liquor store workers, and a Maryland man shot outside his liquor store.

Muhammad, 42, and Malvo, 18, are charged with the three-week shooting spree in the Washington, D.C., area that killed 10 people during the fall of 2002.

Muhammad’s attorneys, Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro, objected to the use of either of the shootings in Muhammad’s trial.

“With regard to three of the shootings, we would object because its irrelevant,” Greenspun said.

Prosecutors said that the shooting of the Maryland liquor store clerk Muhammad Rashid had been linked through a handgun used to shoot Paul LaRuffa, a shooting victim who testified Tuesday, and the two liquor store workers shot in Alabama.

But Greenspun said there was no evidence linking Muhammad to the shooting of Muhammad Rashid, the Maryland liquor store clerk.

“Since it’s not a killing, it’s not part of the terrorism indictment. There are no notes or threats. It’s not relevant to the allegations in the case,” Greenspun argued.

Greenspun said he would have had similar objections to the shooting of Paul LaRuffa, who testified Tuesday. The Clinton, Md. Man was shot outside his Italian restaurant Sept. 5, 2002.

“We’re beyond that now,” Greenspun said.

It was one of few references Muhammad’s attorneys made Wednesday to their elevation from standby counsel, to representing him once again. The defense attorneys had previously asked Millette to bar three of the shootings prosecutors planned to use from the trial. Muhammad withdrew that motion Monday while representing himself.

Millette overruled the defense attorneys’ objections, because prosecutors said witnesses could identify Malvo as being on the scene of the shootings.

“That’s him,” James Gray Jr. said emotionally, after asking deputies to turn Malvo so he could see his left side.

Gray, who said he knew one of the liquor store employees shot in Montgomery, Al., gave chase to the “kid” he saw police chasing. As they dashed in and out of alleys behind buildings, they came face to face in an alley, about 40 feet apart.

“That’s what I saw most, his eyes. They were big and round. He looked in some kind of frenzy. That’s when I thought, ‘This could get ugly,’ ” Gray said. “When I saw his eyes, he scared me.”

Gray’s description of Malvo’s clothing from the knees down matched the description given by the one store employee who survived to testify. Both Gray and Alabama liquor board employee Kellie Adams described the shooter wearing dark shorts and white canvas tennis shoes. Adams said the legs she saw were those of a young African American male.

Gray said he thought the man he chased was fair, or biracial. But he said he was sure that Malvo, escorted into court in an orange jumpsuit with deputies on either side, was the man he chased.

Defense attorney Shapiro objected to showing Malvo to witnesses in such fashion, but was overruled.

Rashid said that Malvo looked “very, very similar” to the man who shot him. But when pressed by Shapiro, he could not say if he was sure Malvo was the man who shot him.

A tape of his 911 call was played to the courtroom. Jurors heard Rashid crying in pain and pleading with the operator to send help. He was alone on a dark night outside the liquor store where he had worked for several months, bleeding from the stomach.