updated 2/20/2004 5:32:15 PM ET 2004-02-20T22:32:15

Lawyers for sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad are crying foul over letters that conspirator Lee Boyd Malvo sent to a fellow inmate, saying prosecutors’ failure to share the correspondence is grounds for a new trial.

In legal papers released Thursday, defense lawyers argued that they could not adequately defend Muhammad against charges in the Washington-area sniper slayings because they were deprived of important evidence. Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro asked that Muhammad’s capital murder convictions be overturned or that a new trial be granted.

Prosecutor Richard Conway said Thursday he had not known about the letters and that his office would not have been required to turn them over if he had.

Post-trial motions were scheduled for Friday.

Muhammad’s sentencing is scheduled for March 10 — the same day Malvo is sentenced — but prosecutors have asked for a change of date so victims’ families can attend both hearings.

Evidence that helps Muhammad?
In addition to several earlier motions, Greenspun and Shapiro argued that three letters Malvo sent to an inmate in Fairfax County known only as “Pacman” provide evidence that Malvo was not under Muhammad’s direction or control — one of the key elements of the law under which Muhammad was convicted. The lawyers said the letters were used by prosecutors in Malvo’s trial to show that the teenager was capable of killing on his own.

Prince William County prosecutors argued that Muhammad, 43, directed Malvo, 19, as part of a terrorist plot to extort $10 million from the government. The pair shot 13 people, killing 10, over three weeks in October 2002.

Muhammad faces the death penalty and Malvo faces a life sentence without parole for convictions in the shootings.

Lawsuit against any profits
In a related development, the mother of a woman thought to be an early victim is suing the men for any profits they might gain from the case.

Pamala Nichols’ lawsuit also seeks unspecified damages from a Tacoma resident who owned the .45-caliber handgun used to shoot her daughter, Keenya Cook.

The lawsuit was filed last Friday on behalf of Cook’s 2-year-old daughter.

Nichols’ attorney, Ben Barcus, acknowledged Muhammad and Malvo likely will not have any assets worth seizing because Muhammad faces the death penalty and Malvo faces a life sentence without parole for convictions in the shootings.

But the lawyer said profits from any books or films emerging from the case should go to the victims of the two men. “The primary focus is to have some kind of provision for this little girl,” he said. “She doesn’t have a mother now.”

Malvo, 18, admitted killing Cook, telling police and psychiatrists the shooting was Muhammad’s way of testing him. Pierce County prosecutors have not decided whether to charge Malvo in the shooting.

During Muhammad’s murder trial in Virginia, Earl Dancy Jr., 35, admitted loaning weapons to Muhammad and Malvo when they stayed with him briefly in early 2002.

“He admitted that he loaned the gun that was used to murder Keenya Cook,” Barcus said of Dancy. “We think that’s negligent.”

Dancy could not immediately be reached for comment.

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