Potomac News Online | Witnesses face sniper suspect

didn’t catch on. I wish I had,” Prince William County Police Officer Steven A. Bailey answered sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad.

Bailey had just testified that he spoke to Muhammad in a restaurant parking lot across the street from the Sunoco station north of Manassas where Dean Harold Meyers was shot in October 2002.

“I asked the defendant if he had heard anything, he said ‘no.’ He said he was heading home. ? And police had directed him to that parking lot,” testified Bailey, who described Muhammad as polite and courteous.

Muhammad asked if his answer that night sounded odd. Tuesday, Bailey agreed that it did — police were directing people out of the area, not in. But that October night, Bailey was only asking people of they heard or saw anything. He searched one vehicle, a white van.

Prosecutors called more than a dozen witnesses Tuesday, who described the scenes of two shootings: Meyers’ death on Oct, 9, 2002, and the shooting and robbery of Paul LaRuffa in Clinton, Md., Sept. 5, 2002.

“As I was pumping gas, I heard a shot. I walked over and saw Dean there, dying,” Manassas resident Jason Salazar testified Tuesday morning.

Salazar said he thought the shot sounded as if it had come from across the street. Later that evening, Officer Bailey discovered a map of Baltimore in the parking lot where he had seen Muhammad, across the street from the Sunoco. The map had been taken from a Baltimore library.

A fingerprint expert with the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms later analyzed eight fingerprints taken from the map. Charles Colman said seven of the prints were fingers, six of those matched Lee Boyd Malvo’s prints. A seventh matched Muhammad’s prints, as did the eighth print, a palm print.

Muhammad tried to challenge the prints. But Millette overruled him, since Muhammad’s former defense attorneys had agreed with prosecutors that Muhammad’s fingerprints were found on the map.

Muhammad, 42, and Lee Boyd 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.

Under questioning from Muhammad, Salazar and two responding police officers had to admit they had not seen him shoot anyone. Salazar and one of the officers hadn’t seen Muhammad or his blue Chevy Caprice near the Sunoco at all.

But Muhammad’s presence, the map, and the fingerprints on it were examples of what defense attorney Michael S. Arif described as “little blocks” in a circumstantial case. Alone, the blocks are seemingly inconsequential, Malvo’s defense attorney said after court closed Tuesday. But the whole picture the blocks as a group create can be devastating, Arif said.

He described Muhammad’s performance as “pretty bad.”

Arif wasn’t the only attorney shaking his head over Muhammad’s performance. Prosecutors objected several times to Muhammad’s defense. Initially, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard A. Conway protested that Muhammad was being directed by his former attorneys.

Judge LeRoy F. Millette reminded Muhammad that he had “in essence, fired,” his attorneys. Millette directed that standby attorneys Jonathan Shapiro and Peter Greenspun move further down the table from Muhammad.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett also objected to Muhammad’s style of cross-examining witnesses, saying Muhammad was offering gratuitous comments.

As he began his cross-examination of the victim of the second shooting addressed Tuesday, LaRuffa, Muhammad said, “I’m not asking these questions out of disrespect. ? I understand how you feel to have your life on the line.”

“He said that to garner favor with the jury,” Willett protested. Millette ordered Muhammad to ask questions, not comment.

“It was a feeling you can’t explain. Defendants aren’t supposed to question you,” said LaRuffa.

LaRuffa was shot outside his Clinton, Md., restaurant. After closing Margellina’s Italian restaurant and bar, he walked into the parking lot with an employee and a long-time customer. He was attacked as he climbed into his car.

“Almost immediately, I saw a figure to my left, a flash of light, the window broke, and I heard shots. I was being shot,” LaRuffa said.

LaRuffa’s friend and customer Paul Hammer described watching a young male figure dart from behind a van parked in the lot. He saw the figure fire “sparks” into LaRuffa’s car, then grab something from inside the car and run.

“I had my hand on my chest. It was soaked with blood,” LaRuffa testified emotionally. He joked morbidly to Hammer: “Am I bleeding out the back too? He said, ‘yeah.’ I said, ‘man, that’s not good.’ “

One of three bullets which entered LaRuffa’s body that night remains, lodged next to his spine.

LaRuffa’s briefcase, containing $3,600 in Margellina’s moneybags, and a restaurant logbook was stolen, along with his laptop computer. The laptop computer contained data entry from work, as well as personal email, LaRuffa said.

Willett described the money and laptop in his opening statements Monday, saying the money was used to finance the snipers’ killing spree. A laptop found in the Chevy Caprice Muhammad and Malvo were arrested in contained maps of the areas where the shootings took place, Willett said. Questioned Tuesday, LaRuffa said his computer had no map program on it when it was stolen.

A briefcase with papers in and the empty Margellina’s moneybags was later found outside a lawyer’s office by a groundskeeper, and turned over to Prince George’s County Police. The groundskeeper also found a T-shirt and pants, which he threw in a dumpster. He later turned these over to police as well.

In his opening statements, Willett described a T-shirt with the same slogan as the one entered into evidence Tuesday. He said hairs matched through DNA to Lee Boyd Malvo were found inside the shirt.

Tuesday afternoon, Arif described these as examples of cross-examinations where Muhammad missed crucial details.

Arif said Muhammad failed to question how long the T-shirt had been in the dumpster, or what else was in the dumpster, questions that could suggest contamination of evidence. Muhammad was not aggressive enough in his cross-examination of Hammer, Arif said. On a tape of Hammer’s 911 call played for the jury, Hammer described LaRuffa’s assailant as a young black male. But Tuesday, Hammer said it was too dark to see the assailant’s face. He maintained he was positive that the shooter was a young male.

Muhammad twice objected to witnesses describing LaRuffa’s shooting, saying the incident was irrelevant to both of the prosecution’s theories of the case: that Muhammad murdered more than one person within three years and that he committed murder during an act of terrorism.

But Millette overruled him, saying there were sufficent matching circumstances after Conway said they would connect the shootings to Muhammad and Malvo through ballistics and eyewitnesses. Afterwards, Willett said that Muhammad withdrew a motion yesterday, drafted by his former defense attorneys, which sought to exclude several of the shootings the prosecution wanted to present.

Muhammad another motion Tuesday morning, originally drafted by his former defense team. Muhammad told Millette that he had “changed his mind” about asking the judge to reconsider his ban on mental health experts. Millette imposed the ban two weeks ago after Muhammad refused to submit to an examination by a forensic psychologist hired by prosecutors.

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