John Allen Muhammad had grand plans to extort millions of dollars from authorities in the 2002 Washington-area sniper shootings so he could set up a camp to train children how to terrorize cities and “shut things down,” accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo testified Tuesday.
Asked whether he believed Muhammad’s plans, Malvo said yes.
“He’s a man of his word. If he tells you he is going to do something, it is done,” Malvo said. “If he says it, it is legit.”
Malvo, who had never before taken the witness stand against his fellow sniper, gave the most detailed account yet of the planning that went into the three-week shooting spree that left 10 people dead at gas stations and parking lots.
Malvo also said Muhammad devised a two-phase plan to shoot as many as six random people each day for 30 days in the Washington area and then target children and police officers with explosives. They planned to place explosives on school buses in Baltimore, kill a Baltimore police officer and then set off explosives packed with ball bearings at the officer’s funeral.
Six a day ‘for the sheer terror of it’
When Malvo asked Muhammad why, he said, “For the sheer terror of it — the worst thing you can do to people is aim at their children.”
Midway through the spree, Malvo said, Muhammad described the plans to take money they would extort from authorities to end the sniper shootings and establish a Canadian commune to train 140 homeless children in terrorist shooting and bombings to “continue the mission” in other cities.
After the Oct. 9, 2002, shooting of Dean Myers in Manassas, Va., Muhammad was upset that the two were not meeting their self-imposed quota of six shootings a day. Malvo said he became upset and refused to talk to Muhammad. At one point, Malvo said he put on headphones, listened to music and refused to acknowledge Muhammad.
Muhammad responded angrily, and told Malvo “I’m not going to deal with it. When people have doubts is when they get caught.”
Muhammad, 45, and Malvo, now 21, were arrested Oct. 24, 2002, at a western Maryland rest stop.
They have already been convicted in Virginia for a sniper murder there. Muhammad received a death sentence while Malvo was given a life term.
Second trial sought in Maryland
Prosecutors in Maryland have said they are pursuing a second trial in case the Virginia conviction is overturned on appeal and to seek justice in Montgomery County, where six of the 10 killings occurred.
The last time the two came face-to-face was in October 2003, when Malvo was brought in at Muhammad’s first trial. Malvo refused to testify, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Before testifying, Malvo told the judge that he intends to plead guilty to murder charges against him in Montgomery County for six life sentences.
He appeared nervous but was expressionless when he entered the courtroom, looking generally in Muhammad’s direction but not making direct eye contact.
Muhammad, who is acting as his own lawyer, said in his opening statement that both he and Malvo were innocent and that they were merely roaming the area looking for Muhammad’s children who were taken away from him after a previous marriage.
Malvo shifted uncomfortably when Muhammad began his cross-examination. Muhammad has referred to Malvo as his son throughout the four-week trial, but told Malvo he would refer to him as “Mr. Malvo” at the request of prosecutors.
Asked by a prosecutor why he chose to testify against Muhammad, Malvo said: “I think he is a coward.” He then glared at Muhammad.
“You took me into your house and you made me a monster,” he said.
‘I just broke down’
In his testimony, Malvo said he was distraught after a six-hour conversation with Muhammad in July 2002, when Muhammad outlined plans for the spree. Malvo said he was so upset he played Russian roulette, crying in a bathtub, and pulled the trigger several times before realizing the next pull would be fatal.
“I just broke down. I couldn’t pull the trigger,” Malvo said.
He described how he spent the night in a Baltimore cemetery, training a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle on a fast food restaurant, waiting for pregnant women. He said he saw four, but couldn’t bring himself to shoot.
The pair scouted dozens of shooting sites in the region. They looked for scenes that had few surveillance cameras, a limited number of witnesses and easy escape routes. They stopped at many shooting sites, such as shopping malls, parking lots and the area around Howard University in Washington, D.C., but aborted because too many people were nearby.
Malvo said he shot three people during the spree but that Muhammad was the triggerman in the others. Malvo said he was supposed to shoot five children at a Bowie middle school Oct. 7, 2002, as they got off a bus, but that no buses arrived. Instead, he shot 13-year-old Iran Brown.
Spotter and shooter
In most cases, Malvo acted as the spotter with Muhammad firing from the trunk of their modified Chevrolet Caprice. Using two-way radios, Malvo would tell Muhammad when it was clear to shoot and then watch the victim fall in the Caprice’s side mirror. Muhammad would then scramble back into the driver’s seat, and the pair would drive off. When Malvo fired, he shot from outside the Caprice.
He also described meeting Muhammad in the Caribbean after Malvo’s parents largely abandoned him. Malvo said Muhammad “basically took me under his wing” a few months after they met in May 2000. He said he came to love Muhammad.
Muhammad trained Malvo in weapons, kept him on a rigorous diet that allowed only one meal each day, and introduced him to the teachings of the Nation of Islam, Malvo said. Muhammad hated America and thought white people were “the devil.” He eventually became impressed with his young charge, saying after Malvo calmly shot a man at an Ashland, Va., restaurant, “I’ve created a ... monster.”