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Court hears of sniper suspects’ arrest

A refrigeration mechanic who led police to sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad after spotting his car at a Maryland rest stop stayed at the stop for nearly three hours as police closed in.

A refrigeration mechanic who led police to sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad after spotting his car at a Maryland rest stop stayed at the stop for nearly three hours as police closed in.

WHITNEY DONAHUE of Greencastle, Pa., testified Monday at Muhammad’s capital murder trial that he kept in touch with 911 dispatchers in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2002, even though he was worried that he might be shot.

Donahue had heard a radio report describing the Chevy Caprice with New Jersey tags that police were seeking in connection with the sniper spree. He immediately noticed the Caprice, which was one of only two other cars parked at the rest stop near Myersville, Md.

At one point, when 911 dispatchers asked him to double-check the tags, he enlisted another driver to check the tags as he drove out.

“I really wasn’t wanting to get shot,” Donahue said.

Still, he stayed on the phone with dispatchers from 12:47 a.m. to 3:30 a.m., watching the Caprice. Muhammad and fellow suspect Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested in the vehicle that morning.

The third week of testimony began Monday in Muhammad’s trial on charges of shooting Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas area gas station Oct. 9, 2002.

Prosecutors are introducing evidence in 16 shootings in Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana and the District of Columbia in an effort to show that Muhammad is responsible for multiple deaths and engaged in a form of terrorism — necessary conditions for the two death penalty charges against him.

Muhammad, 42, and 18-year-old Malvo, who goes on trial Nov. 10 in connection with another sniper shooting, had been sleeping in the 1990 blue Chevrolet Caprice that authorities say was adapted so someone concealed inside the car could fire a rifle through a hole in the trunk.

Earlier Monday, the widow of a bus driver slain in last year’s sniper attacks testified she saw his empty bus on television but couldn’t get to the hospital fast enough to say goodbye.

Denise Johnson, widow of Conrad Johnson, said she didn’t know right away that it was her husband’s bus but immediately tried to reach him on his cell phone without success.

“I thought maybe he had seen something,” she said.

She eventually received a call from her mother-in-law saying that he had been shot and rushed to the hospital. Her husband was alive when she arrived but she didn’t get to see him until after he died.

Defense lawyers objected to her testimony, as they have to similar testimony, saying it is unfairly emotional and irrelevant to the case. Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. instructed prosecutors to keep the testimony brief.

Also Monday, jurors saw photos of Muhammad at a Silver Spring, Md., steakhouse the night before Johnson was shot.

The photos, taken from an Outback steakhouse surveillance system on Oct. 21, 2002, appeared to show Muhammad in the lobby of the restaurant a few miles from where Johnson was shot.

Testimony in Muhammad’s trial has been replete with reminders of missed opportunities to end the three-week shooting spree that left 10 people dead.

One police officer spoke to Muhammad, who was driving a blue car near one of the shootings, but let him go. A harried dispatcher tried unsuccessfully to refer a caller claiming responsibility for the attacks to another agency.

The jury also heard from a woman who saw a suspicious blue car but didn’t tell police “because they were looking for a white van.”

“These are heartbreaking things,” former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt said. “These are things that police officers and FBI agents are beating themselves in the head with and saying: ’My God, if only we would have, should have, could have. We might have gotten them sooner, if only.”’

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