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Accomplice to Testify Against 'Washington Sniper'


It's DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. Four years ago the Washington, D.C. area was paralyzed by a series of sniper attacks. Ten people were killed by a man and a teenager who had a stranger father/son relationship. John Allen Muhammad is on trial in Maryland accused of six homicides. He has already been sentenced to death in Virginia. His accomplice, the teenager Lee Boyd Malvo, was sentenced to life in prison. Malvo is expected to testify for the prosecution against Muhammad and he could shed some light on who actually pulled the trigger and what the motive was. Eric Rich is covering the trial for the Washington Post. And Eric, those questions weren't answered in the previous trials? What do prosecutors believe?

Mr. ERIC RICH (Reporter, Washington Post): Prosecutors in Maryland haven't said what they believe yet, and I guess we'll learn a little more when Malvo takes the stand, assuming he does. But what happened in Virginia was shortly after Malvo and Muhammad were arrested, Malvo gave a number of statements to various investigators.

And in those statements he claimed that he was the gunman in most of the shootings. He described some of them in fairly comprehensive detail. But in any case, later on in statements that he gave to the psychiatrist hired by the defense, Malvo said that he, in fact, was not the gunman, that he'd only been the gunman in one of the sniper shootings and that Muhammad pulled the trigger in all the rest.

BRAND: And he may also say what the motive was?

Mr. RICH: Well, you know, we don't know. The prosecutors haven't offered a motive, they did not offer a motive here in their opening statements, but I think one of the things prosecutors hope to accomplish, and the state's attorney here in Montgomery county hopes to accomplish with this trial, is sort of providing some justice for the victims here in Montgomery county, but also some sort of larger closure for everybody in the community. And one way that that could be provided is by explaining what this 22 days of terror in October of 2002 were really about.

And you may recall during the attacks themselves the snipers demanded a 10 million dollar payment, and Malvo said later that Muhammad intended to use the 10 million to build a compound in Canada where he would start up some sort of Utopian world. Very strange theory. Malvo's attorneys in Virginia thought Muhammad's actual goal was to kill his ex-wife and regain custody of three of his children. So maybe further light might be shed on that if Malvo does in fact get to the issue of motive.

BRAND: Everyone speculated that he was sort of in the thrall of this older man, maybe brainwashed by him. And I'm wondering if there's any indication that he will actually testify quite strongly against Muhammad, or if indeed his testimony would be a risk for prosecutors.

Mr. RICH: Malvo's looking at life with no chance of parole, and that means he's not getting out, and there's nothing that Maryland can do and the prosecutors here can do to give him a break from that. So he or at least people who are close to the trial have described his motivation in testifying here in Montgomery against Muhammad as part of a sort of personal redemption kind of exercise, where he's grown up and realized that now he wants to confront Muhammad.

Are there risks for the prosecution? Well, I talked to a number of lawyers about that and some lawyers thought there was this tremendous possible benefit of really explaining this crime. However, other defense attorneys not involved in the case told me that there are risks and he has nothing to lose. And I'll tell you one of the people who told me that was the prosecutor in Virginia who prosecuted Malvo. The worst case scenario would be Malvo could blurt out something that would force a mistrial, however unlikely that may be.

BRAND: Muhammad is representing himself, so there could be this strange spectacle of him actually cross-examining Malvo, right?

Mr. RICH: That is absolutely right. I mean, especially because Malvo's defense in Virginia, one of the defenses, was that if he did commit these crimes he was essentially brainwashed into murder. You know, you have the story of Malvo as a younger man in the Caribbean, a teenager, sort of fell in with Muhammad, who became a father figure and who he grew really close to, and by the time that, you know, the sniper attacks were happening, Muhammad was referring to Malvo as his son and he's continued to refer to him as his son. So I mean that could be really quite an unusual courtroom.

BRAND: Thank you, Eric.

Mr. RICH: Thanks.

BRAND: Eric Rich is a reporter for the Washington Post. He's covering the trial of John Allen Muhammad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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