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Sniper Suspect Cast As ‘Clever Killer’

November 13, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) _ Teenage sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo was portrayed as ``a smart, clever killer″ by prosecutors and a manipulated ``child soldier″ by the defense as opening statements in his trial were presented Thursday. Meanwhile, another prosecutor said in closing arguments that John Allen Muhammad was ``captain of this killing team.″

In opening statements in Malvo’s trial, prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. told jurors they will hear an audio tape of Malvo made by police in which the defendant describes the killings and ``talks about the killing power of the weapon he is using, the damage it can do.″

Malvo speaks so casually, Horan said, that ``it’s hard to remember he’s talking about killing innocent people.″ He called Malvo ``a smart, clever killer.″

In his opening statement, defense attorney Craig Cooley described the Jamaican-born Malvo as an obedient but lonely child, desperate for a father figure, making him vulnerable to indoctrination by Muhammad.

Cooley said Malvo, now 18, was 15 and left alone by his mother when he met Muhammad, ``who showed him attention and taught him, in his mind, to be a man.″

Malvo’s situation ``made him incredibly vulnerable and susceptible to a man who was prepared to manipulate him, who took him in, used him, trained him, indoctrinated him,″ Cooley said. He said Muhammad turned Malvo into ``his child soldier ... just as surely as a potter molds clay.″

In a courthouse 20 miles away, meanwhile, Prosecutor Richard Conway began his closing argument in Muhammad’s trial.

``We have a sniper-spotter killing team taking out innocent people,″ Conway told jurors Thursday. He said the motive for the three-week shooting spree in October 2002 was to create terror and try to extort $10 million.

Pointing to Muhammad, Conway said, ``This man and the person he held up to be his son, both took direct part in the murders.″

Conway likened Muhammad and Malvo to a tandem in which one holds a person down and the other bashes the person’s head with a rock.

While a joint effort, Conway said, Muhammad was clearly ``captain of this killing team.″ A piece of text found on an electronic organizer in Muhammad’s car, he said, referred to ``the Muhammad assassinations.″

Defense lawyer Peter Greenspun, at the beginning of his closing statement, acknowledged the difficulty of setting aside the emotional material, including gruesome crime-scene photos, and focus on the evidence.

``We are here with a daunting task,″ he said. ``How can you keep an open mind looking at those pictures?″

He said a close look at the evidence would show that prosecutors had not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jurors were expected to begin deliberating Muhammad’s fate later in the day or Friday.

Muhammad, 42, is charged in the killing of Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas-area gas station on Oct. 9, 2002. Malvo is accused of killing FBI analyst Linda Franklin at a Home Depot Oct. 14, 2002, in the Falls Church area. Both could face the death penalty if convicted.

The jury in the Malvo case was selected Wednesday, whittled down from a pool of about 150 jurors over 2 1/2 days. The panel includes a retired and current teacher, a retired Coast Guard employee, a sheet-metal worker and a minister.

Fairfax prosecutors say their case should take about a week, while Malvo’s attorneys have about 70 witnesses they could call.

In Muhammad’s trial, jurors heard more than 130 witnesses in three weeks of evidence against Muhammad but just five witnesses over two hours in his defense Wednesday. Muhammad, who began the case by firing his lawyers and acting briefly as his own attorney, did not testify on his own behalf.

The defense’s case included a private investigator who visited the Bowie, Md., school where 13-year old Iran Brown was wounded on Oct. 7, 2002. He cast doubt on a prosecution witness who said he saw Muhammad and Malvo at the scene an hour before the shooting.

Before closing arguments got under way, Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. ruled Thursday that the verdict forms the Muhammad jury will use during deliberations will include the name ``John Allen Williams,″ Muhammad’s name before converting to Islam.

Defense lawyers had asked that information that Muhammad is also known as John Allen Williams be stricken from the forms because it might appear sinister to the jury, but Millette left it in place, saying it has been a part of the case file since its inception.

The unexpected overlap of the closing and opening arguments in the two cases presents some problems with shared pieces of evidence, including the Bushmaster rifle and the laptop computer prosecutors say contained a ``virtual diary″ of the killings.

___

Associated Press writer Stephen Manning in Virginia Beach, Va., contributed to this report.

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