Imagine, if you will, that you are on trial, in the state of Virginia,
facing charges of having committed a specific, single act of homicide.
And imagine that prosecutors repeatedly call witnesses to the stand to
obtain testimony about other murders committed in other states by another
perpetrator -- and then they declare you
responsible for those crimes.
And imagine that you have no idea what is coming next, because owing to
an alleged peculiarity of Virginia law, the state is not bound by any of
those newfangled disclosure rules; they get to keep their case under wraps.
So you don't know from day to day if you will be defending yourself against
charges of, say, committing a robbery/homicide in Louisiana, or charges
of committing a sniper killing in Washington, D.C.. The charges are subject
to change at any moment, sometimes several times a day. Imagine also that
on the very week that your non-sequestered jury is seated, a movie is aired
on cable television that portrays you as the perpetrator of more than a
dozen brutal murders in seven states. And imagine that police are freely
violating a court order prohibiting them from discussing evidence with
the media. And, finally, imagine that that same media, without exception,
has declared the state's case against you to be overwhelming, when a thoughtful
examination reveals that the state actually has no case at all.
Would you find any of that just a bit odd? A little troubling,
perhaps? Would you find yourself wondering what sort of Kafkaesque nightmare
you had awakened to? Would you find yourself pondering the inevitable
question: "Who the hell needs 'secret military tribunals' when a high-profile
defendant can be railroaded in broad daylight in a public trial?"
The following question needs to be asked, although no one seems
willing to ask it: could the trial of alleged 'DC Sniper' John Allen
Muhammad possibly be any more of a farce?
There was never any doubt, of course, that any trial would necessarily
be an entirely fraudulent affair, since it has been obvious for quite
some time that Muhammad and sidekick Lee Boyd Malvo are likely little
more than patsies set up to take the fall for what was, by all indications,
a government-run covert operation.
(See Newsletter #20, recently updated and re-posted at: http://davesweb.cnchost.com/nwsltr20.html
But it is still a bit of a surprise, I suppose, that the trial
is such an obvious
For those who haven't been following the legal shenanigans, Muhammad,
while publicly accused of complicity in as many as sixteen murders in
at least seven different states, has been charged with, and is currently
standing trial for, exactly one
count of first-degree murder. Just
And why, you may wonder, has he not been charged with any of the
other homicides? For the rather obvious reason that the state has no
case. In fact, prosecutors don't even have a case to support the one murder
charge that Muhammad is
facing. So they have decided to pursue
a rather creative legal strategy: they have taken the nearly nonexistent
evidence that they have managed to gather/manufacture to support the single
murder charge, and they have combined that with dubious bits and pieces of
evidence that allegedly link the defendant to a dozen other uncharged murders,
and then they have topped the whole thing off with a thick coating of gratuitously
graphic, emotionally-charged testimony.
And in case focusing the trial on crimes other than the one that
Muhammad is actually charged with is not enough of a judicial outrage,
the state has gone one surreal step further: on multiple occasions, prosecutors
have subpoenaed Muhammad's alleged accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, to appear
in court so that he can be identified by witnesses to crimes that neither
Muhammad nor Malvo have been charged with.
And these witnesses were not, mind you, called to the stand during
Muhammad's trial so that they could identify both Muhammad and
Malvo. No, they were called to identify Malvo alone -- to implicate him
in crimes committed in Maryland, Alabama and Louisiana -- crimes that appear
to have been committed by a single perpetrator. And that perpetrator was
not the man sitting stoically at the defense table.
The admission of prejudicial evidence completely unrelated to the
homicide that Muhammad is actually charged with has been justified by
the media's 'legal analysts' on the basis of another alleged peculiarity
of Virginia law that allows prosecutors to pursue a death sentence for multiple
murders committed over a three year period, but not for a single act of
murder. In order then for the state to seek a death sentence, according
to an AP
report, "prosecutors will have to prove Muhammad's involvement
in the Meyers killing and at least one other fatal shooting."
So even though the defendant is charged with only one murder, the
state needs to show that he committed at least two. It is perfectly okay
then, so the dialogue goes, for prosecutors to enter evidence completely
unrelated to the actual murder charge. Because it is, you see, a death
In fact, prosecutors are pursuing two capital charges. The other
charge is based on an openly fascistic, post-September 11 'anti-terrorism'
law that allows the state to pursue a death sentence if the defendant's
crimes were intended to "influence the government or to intimidate the
civilian population," according to another AP
report. The new law
has never been prosecuted. Muhammad is a test case.
Now I will readily admit that I am not a lawyer, and I have not
really spent a great deal of time studying Virginia law, but it seems
to me that if the state wants to execute someone for being a multiple
murderer, then the state's burden should be, at the very least, to actually
convict that person of committing at least two specific
It just seems like the right thing to do -- because in a death penalty case,
you generally want to keep the bar set fairly high.
The state claims that there are as many as sixteen separate murder
counts that Muhammad could be charged with. Prosecutors need prove him
guilty of just two of those crimes to achieve their goal. Wouldn't then
the reasonable, and legal, approach be for prosecutors to pick out the two
homicide counts for which they can build the strongest cases and then bring
Muhammad to trial on those two murder charges? And isn't it fairly obvious
to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the American criminal justice
system that if it is a specific penalty
that prosecutors wish to
pursue, then the proper time to do that would be during the penalty
phase of the trial? Isn't it, as a general rule, a good idea to actually
convict someone before pursuing a penalty?
Is it not the burden of the state, even in Virginia, to prove the
defendant guilty of the specific crime for which he has been charged?
And if the state succeeds in that initial goal, then isn't it during the
phase that follows, and only then, that evidence of other crimes
should be allowed into evidence in support of the prosecution's request for
a sentence of death?
As I noted previously, however, the state of Virginia has a problem:
it cannot put together a prosecutable case on any
of the individual
murder charges. Not one. Nevertheless, the state really, really
wants to execute John Allen Muhammad. And so prosecutors are basically saying
to the jury: "Look, folks, we're claiming that this guy committed a whole
string of cold-blooded murders, but we've only charged him with one, and
we can't really even prove that one, so we're just going to throw out everything
we have and let each of you pick whichever two murders you like best so that
we can get on with executing this guy, who everyone already knows is the
DC Sniper. And please remember that, whatever else you do, don't anyone think
about watching DC Sniper: 23 Days of Fear
, premiering this Friday
night on the USA
network at 9:00 PM Eastern time and featuring a stirring
performance by Charles S. Dutton as Virginia's very own Chief Charles Moose."
It is important to fully appreciate the mockery of justice currently
on display in a public courtroom in Virginia, because if it can happen
to a suspect with the name recognition of John Allen Muhammad, then it
can happen to anyone. Let's review then some of the highlights of Muhammad's
The first witness called by the state was Mark Spicer, identified
as a sergeant major in the British army with considerable expertise as
a sniper. Spicer's job as a witness was to sell to the jury the dubious
proposition that professionally trained snipers always work in two-man
teams. The intent was to present Muhammad and Malvo as an inseparable,
two-headed beast. Any subsequent evidence implicating Malvo, therefore,
would also necessarily implicate Muhammad -- even when it didn't appear
Muhammad, who briefly served as his own attorney - after demanding
just prior to opening statements that he be allowed to exercise that
right, much to the consternation of the judge, the prosecutors, the media,
and Muhammad's own defense attorneys, Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro
- lodged two perfectly reasonable objections. He first objected on the
grounds that he had not been given notice of Spicer's testimony. Prosecutor
Paul Ebert responded that he was not, it being Virginia and all, required
to provide such notice. Judge LeRoy F. Millette, Jr. quickly agreed. Muhammad
next objected on the grounds that Spicer's testimony was not relevant, unless
the witness was prepared to show that Muhammad had received the type of
training that Spicer was describing. Again, the objection was overruled.
Prosecutors did not, needless to say, offer any evidence that Muhammad
had received such training -- nor did they offer any explanation for why
they had to journey all the way to the UK to find a witness who could establish
a key element of their case.
Prosecutors then presented their evidence, such as it was, in support
of the charge that Muhammad shot and killed Dean Harold Meyers outside
a Prince William County gas station on October 9, 2002. Police officer
Steven Bailey testified that he stopped Muhammad and spoke briefly with
him as the defendant was attempting to exit a restaurant parking lot from
which police claim the fatal shot was fired. Bailey said that this encounter
occurred a half-hour after Meyers had been killed.
You don't say? So the master sniper picked off a victim and then
sat there - in his Snipermobile, cradling his scope-equipped sniper rifle,
and checking his Global Positioning System and notebook computer - for
a full 30 minutes, while he waited for a massive police response? While
he waited for a checkpoint to be established at the exit to the very parking
lot that he was sitting in, in his Snipermobile? And then he casually
drove away through a phalanx of officers, pausing briefly to chat with
officer Bailey? I never would have guessed that.
Bailey informed the jury that Muhammad had lied to him that day,
claiming that police had directed him into the parking lot. He had accepted
that explanation, Bailey testified, and regrettably waved the Snipermobile
through -- although you would think that Bailey would have been aware that
police were actually barring entry to the lot, not steering cars into it.
Jason Salazar offered an eyewitness account of the shooting. Actually,
Salazar offered more of an ear
witness account. As prosecutor
James Willet acknowledged in his opening statement, the state had "no eyewitness
testimony to any of these shootings." Willet was quick to add that that only
proved "how clever [Muhammad] is."
Salazar testified that he heard a shot and subsequently saw Meyers
slumped in a pool of blood. He didn't see where the shot came from and
he had no idea who had fired it; he only saw the bloody aftermath. Salazar's
testimony was apparently intended to introduce jurors to the brutality,
and the suddenness, of death by gunshot. For the next three weeks, jurors
will be bombarded with graphic images depicting the damage that a .223-caliber
assault rifle can do to the human body. The images will be designed to shock
and disgust, and they will prove quite effective.
No one in the courtroom will mention that, even as jurors and spectators
are grimacing at the grisly images, that very same .223-caliber ammunition
is ripping apart the bodies of Iraqi men, women, and children. No one will
mention that, thousands of miles away, the mayhem depicted in the prosecution's
photographic exhibits is an everyday occurrence. And no one will mention that
during the three weeks that prosecutors spend presenting their parade of
bloody exhibits, the shredded remains of dozens of 'coalition' troops will
be shipped home in body bags. Images of that carnage will not be displayed,
and so there will be little outrage, and no one will be held accountable.
But that, I guess, is another story entirely.
Larry Meyers, a brother of the victim, was called to the stand
to eulogize his slain sibling. After doing so, he was shown a photograph
of his brother and asked by Ebert: "Does this represent your brother in
life?" He was then shown a gruesome crime scene photo and asked: "Does this
represent your brother in death?" Larry Meyers had not witnessed his brother's
death. His testimony proved only that the prosecution team was perfectly
willing to shamelessly exploit the bereaved relatives of victims to inflame
the passions of the jury.
Linda Thompson, identified as a bank manager, testified that she
saw both Muhammad and Malvo, and their Snipermobile, outside her work
not long before Meyers was shot nearby. If her identification of Muhammad
was accurate, then her testimony placed him, along with thousands of other
potential suspects, in the vicinity of the crime within hours of the time
that it was committed.
Having established that, and nothing more, prosecutors then moved
on to other, uncharged, crimes. A Clinton, Maryland restaurant owner named
Paul LaRuffa took the stand to describe being shot and robbed outside
his place of business on September 5, 2002. He did not see who had shot
him. Asked directly by Muhammad if he could identify the shooter in the
courtroom, he answered "no."
On the third day, the trial took another unexpected turn: after
competently representing himself for two days, Muhammad reportedly asked,
during a bench conference, that his attorneys be reinstated. An Associated
account noted that Muhammad's "face [wa]s badly swollen from
a chronic toothache" that day in court. The report did not mention why, if
the defendant was indeed suffering with a chronic toothache, he had not received
treatment for it. The Baltimore Sun
reported that Muhammad's decision
came "thanks to an abscessed tooth and a little prodding by Judge LeRoy F.
Millette, Jr." The trial unexpectedly shut down the next day due to a purported
power outage that apparently affected only the courthouse.
Witness Muhammad Rashid took the stand to describe being shot on September
15, 2002 as he locked up the liquor store where he worked in Brandywine,
Maryland. Malvo was brought involuntarily to the courtroom by prosecutors
so that he could be identified by the witness. The man on trial was not
implicated in the uncharged crime, which did not involve the use of the
Bushmaster assault rifle; both Rashid and LaRuffa were shot with a .22-caliber
Witness Kellie Adams provided an account of an attack upon her and a co-worker,
Claudine Parker, in Montgomery, Alabama that occurred on September 21,
just six days after the attack in Brandywine, Maryland. Adams did not
see her assailant, but she offered harrowing accounts of her co-worker's
death and her own disabling injuries.
Alabama police officer James Graboys identified Malvo, who was again
brought involuntarily into the courtroom, as the assailant that he had
chased in his police cruiser. He claimed that he had gotten a "very good
glimpse" of the attacker, from 10 to 15 feet away. Despite getting that
close to the suspect, the officer failed to apprehend him (or shoot him,
as might be expected in Alabama when an armed black suspect is seen fleeing
a murder scene), as did another officer who testified that he arrived on
the scene in time to see a young suspect looking through a purse and then
fleeing, with gun in hand.
Another witness testified that she found a .22-caliber handgun a
month after the shooting near where Graboys had chased the suspect. No witnesses
recalled seeing any gun other than the handgun wielded by the fleeing suspect.
And no one saw any other assailants. One would assume then that the two victims
were shot with the handgun carried by the lone fleeing suspect.
Medical examiner Emily Ward, however, had a different story to tell. She
claimed that the actual murder weapon was not the handgun that witnesses
recalled seeing, but an unseen high-powered rifle -- a rifle wielded by,
presumably, an unseen John Allen Muhammad. And that wasn't the only strange
twist to this particular crime: although the .22-caliber handgun belatedly
recovered from the scene played no role in the crime, it turned out to be,
believe it or not, the gun that had allegedly been used to shoot both Paul
LaRuffa and Muhammad Rashid!
So what we have here is what initially appeared to be a run-of-the-mill,
botched liquor store robbery (the two women were shot while locking up the
store), committed by a single handgun-wielding suspect who evaded capture
by the police, leaving the crime unsolved ... until a month later, when
a bizarre phone call inexplicably led to sniper case investigators descending
on the Alabama crime scene and suddenly identifying Muhammad and Malvo as
the sniper suspects. And at that same time, strangely enough, someone happened
to stumble upon a previously undiscovered handgun that connected the unsolved
crime in Alabama to two unsolved crimes in Maryland.
Just six days before the shooting in Alabama, Malvo had allegedly used the
.22-caliber handgun in Maryland to shoot and rob a victim as that victim
closed a liquor store. But in Alabama, although the same assailant, carrying
the same gun, was allegedly seen robbing two victims who had just been shot
as they closed a liquor store, he wasn't the one who actually shot them.
But he was the one who carelessly dropped a .22-caliber handgun, cleverly
doing so without leaving any fingerprints on it, even though he had been
seen holding it. He wasn't seen, on the other hand, holding a weapons catalogue,
but that isn't surprising given that a catalogue isn't the sort of thing
that someone would usually bring with them to commit a robbery/homicide.
Nevertheless, sniper investigators claim that they recovered from the scene,
belatedly of course, a gun catalogue bearing the fingerprints of Lee Malvo.
It is interesting to note that the state's fingerprint evidence was limited
to prints lifted from a few easily transportable and (with the exception
of the rifle) innocuous personal items. The evidence was incriminating, in
other words, only because of where
the items were allegedly found.
In addition to the weapons catalogue allegedly recovered in Montgomery,
prosecutors introduced into evidence a bag of Cinnaraisins
had allegedly left behind, complete with fingerprints, at one crime scene.
And near the scene of the Meyers shooting, police purportedly recovered a
Baltimore-area map bearing both Muhammad's and Malvo's fingerprints.
That map was the only item entered into evidence by the state that bore the
defendant's fingerprints. It should go without saying that it would not be
at all unusual to find a map of the local area in the vehicle of a driver
who was from out of state. It also would not be unusual to find snack food
wrappers and maybe a magazine or a catalogue. So if investigators had recovered
such items from the Snipermobile, they would have had no real value as evidence.
But if those same items somehow turn up near shooting scenes ... well, then
suddenly the state has a case.
But here we are really getting ahead of ourselves. The state's physical evidence
comes later. For now, we return to the witnesses.
Moving on to another uncharged homicide, the state next called witness Tina
Leonard, who claimed that she saw Malvo two days after the Alabama shooting
-- standing over the body of slain beauty store manager Hong Im Ballenger
in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Another witness also placed Malvo at the scene.
Church Deacon Henry Goins testified that Muhammad and Malvo came to his
church the night of the shooting. Michael Cramer, a pathologist, offered
graphic testimony and displayed grisly autopsy photos.
The Los Angeles Times
provided the following summation of
the first week of testimony: "The jury has heard from three survivors
of the shootings and seen autopsy photos of three victims. Only one witness
has placed Muhammad at the scene of a shooting -- Virginia police Officer
Stephen I. Bailey."
Only one witness, in other words, offered testimony relevant to establishing
Muhammad's guilt for the crime that he is charged with. All the rest
was just smoke and mirrors. And the prosecution team was just getting
To be continued ...