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La. Shootings Linked to Sniper Rifle

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La. shootings linked to sniper rifle

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

Oct. 31 — Ballistic evidence has linked the rifle that authorities say was used in the sniper rampage in the Washington, D.C., area to two unsolved shootings in Baton Rouge, La., sources told NBC News on Thursday.

THE SOURCES, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that bullets recovered from the scene of two shootings in Baton Rouge on Sept. 23 and 26 matched slugs from the Bushmaster XM-15 seized last week along with suspected snipers John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17.

One of the shootings was fatal, but the victim in the other attack survived, the sources said.

Federal and local authorities were to announce the latest shooting connected to the case at a 5 p.m. ET news conference in Baton Rouge, which is Muhammad’s hometown.

Muhammad and Malvo have previously been placed in the city as recently as July, when they visited Muhammad’s relatives.

THIRD PERSON INVOLVED?

Earlier Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the rifle also had been positively linked to a robbery attempt in Alabama that left one woman dead, forcing investigators there to reconsider whether a third person may have been involved in the crime.

The Post quoted Montgomery, Ala., Police Chief John Wilson as saying that new ballistics tests linked the Bushmaster XM-15 rifle that authorities say was used by John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, in the sniper shootings to the Sept. 21 slaying outside a Montgomery liquor store.

Wilson told the newspaper the finding leads him to believe a third person may have been involved in the Alabama slaying, because the two sniper suspects were spotted with a handgun and magazine, not a rifle, the newspaper reported. Investigators were already looking into the possibility that a third person, possibly driving a getaway car, was involved in the shooting.

“It’s frustrating. Just at the time you figure it out, it grows another leg,” the newspaper quoted Wilson as saying.

SECOND TEST MORE RELIABLE

Wilson told the Post that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Special Agent James Cavanaugh told him that the second round of tests was considered more reliable because authorities were able to compare a bullet recovered from the crime scene with one test-fired from the Bushmaster rifle recovered from the Chevrolet Caprice in which Muhammad and Malvo were sleeping when they were arrested.

A recent photograph of John A. Muhammad, right, and John Lee Malvo

Cavanaugh declined to comment, and an ATF spokesman said only that “ATF forensic examiners worked closely with Montgomery, Ala., officials.”

Wilson said investigators had assumed that they were looking for a .22-caliber handgun because no one saw a “long gun” at the scene. The liquor store manager, Claudine Parker, was killed, and clerk Kellie Adams was shot in the neck.

When a patrol car responded to the reports of a shooting outside the liquor store, officers saw a man they later identified as Muhammad standing over the two women, rummaging through their purses and holding a handgun in his right hand, Wilson told the Post. An accomplice, later identified as Malvo, was standing about 50 yards away with a magazine in his hand, possibly acting as a lookout, Wilson said, citing witness accounts.

BLUE CAR BLOCKED PATH

Officers chased Muhammad across a neighboring restaurant parking lot, but lost him when a blue car darted out and blocked the path, Wilson said.

At the time, Wilson told the Post, the officers thought the car was at the wrong place at the wrong time. But once authorities learned that Muhammad and Malvo had a blue car, he said, his suspicions turned to a possible third person.

Malvo has been linked to the Alabama crime through a fingerprint recovered from the magazine, which provided police with a crucial break in the investigation of the sniper shootings.

In another development related to the wide-ranging investigation, a U.S. attorney on Wednesday defended his decision to take the sniper suspects into federal custody soon after their arrest, saying it didn’t prevent interrogators from getting good information from the pair.

In a statement, Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio took issue with complaints by local authorities, saying that neither Muhammad nor Malvo was “yielding any useful information” when he instructed local authorities to hand them over.

PROSECUTOR RESPONDS

DiBiagio was responding to an article published earlier in the day in the New York Times which quoted local authorities in Maryland and federal agents as saying that Muhammad was talking freely and appeared to be on the verge of confessing when the transfer was ordered. The former Army sergeant, who since has refused to cooperate with investigators.

DiBiagio said in the statement that his concern that the suspects be handed over was based on U.S. law mandating that a juvenile must be brought before a magistrate judge “forthwith” and on procedural rules requiring that an adult be brought before a magistrate “without unnecessary delay.”

Newsweek: Muhammad's transformation

He also took issue with a passage in the Times story saying that DiBiagio had told the investigators in Maryland that he was acting “on orders from the Justice Department and the White House.”

“At no time did I say that the White House had anything to do with the decision to place John Allen Muhammad in federal custody,” DiBiagio said. “Further, it should be clear to everyone involved in this matter that no White House officials had anything to do with any of the decisions about where these individuals would be in custody or where charges might be brought.”

The dispute was the most public manifestation to date of a behind-the-scenes struggle over control of the high-profile case.

CHARGES FILED IN 3 STATES

Three states — Maryland, Virginia and Alabama — have filed murder charges against Muhammad and Malvo in connection with the sniper shootings that terrorized the greater Washington, D.C., area for three weeks beginning Oct. 2 and a failed liquor store robbery in Montgomery, Ala., on Sept. 21 that left a woman dead.

Muhammad and Malvo also have been linked to a February murder and another shooting in Tacoma, Wash., though authorities there say it is unlikely they will file charges given the number of other jurisdictions jockeying to try the pair.

The federal government staked a preliminary claim to the case on Tuesday, filing a criminal complaint charging Muhammad in the deaths of seven people that would subject him to the death penalty if he is convicted.

Muhammad was charged in a 20-count criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., in Prince George’s County, by prosecutors from DiBiagio’s office.

Among the charges were seven counts of use of a firearm that resulted in death; extortion and interruption of interstate commerce; interstate transportation in aid of racketeering; and discharging a firearm in a school zone.

‘ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION’

Although police say the sniper suspects were responsible for 13 shootings that claimed 10 lives, the federal complaint names only seven victims — six killed in Montgomery County, Md., and one person murdered in Washington, D.C.

A senior Justice Department official, who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the Virginia cases were omitted “out of an abundance of caution” because of that state’s unique laws regarding double jeopardy — that is, being tried twice for the same crime. Federal charges stemming from those cases could be added later, the official said.

The charging complaint did not name Malvo, and it was not clear whether he, too, had been charged. Officials and courts are barred by federal law from discussing or revealing any charges against a juvenile.

CAUTION AGAINST RUSH TO JUDGMENT

Muhammad’s lead attorney, public defender Jim Wyda, urged the public to withhold judgment until all the evidence is heard.

“Mr. Muhammad is a 41-year-old father,” Wyda said. “He was an American who served in the Persian Gulf. He was honorably discharged. He has never been convicted of another crime at any time, anywhere.”

The federal charges do not necessarily mean that federal prosecutors will hold the first trial, though they have that option. Negotiations about the schedule for trials will continue with the states, Justice Department officials said. A decision is not expected until next week.

Muhammad and Malvo could face execution in Virginia and Alabama, while Maryland law would bar capital punishment for Malvo because he is a minor.

Death penalty provisions in jurisdictions involved in the sniper shootings:

MARYLAND

State law requires that one of 10 specific circumstances be met for the death penalty to apply. The criterion that might apply: If a defendant commits more than one murder arising out of the same incident. Prosecutors say the case meets that standard because on Oct. 3 four people were killed between 7:41 a.m. and 9:58 a.m. in Montgomery County. They say a moratorium on executions imposed by the governor will soon be lifted. Maryland law sets a minimum age of 18 for the death penalty, which would rule out its use against John Lee Malvo, believed to be 17.

VIRGINIA

State has broader statute for death penalty, including provisions allowing for execution of killers who commit more than one murder in three years and those with the “intent to intimidate the civilian population at large.” Both could apply in the sniper case.

Virginia has executed 86 people since 1982, a total second only to Texas. Unlike Maryland, a 17-year-old would be eligible for the death penalty.

WASHINGTON, D.C. No death penalty.

ALABAMA

State law would not require prosecutors to prove which suspect was the triggerman in the killing of a woman outside a Montgomery liquor store. A 17-year-old would be eligible for the death penalty.

FEDERAL

Prosecutors would have to bring conspiracy charges carrying the death penalty. For instance, the Hobbs Act allows the government to seek death in murders where killers try to extort money. Police said two letters left during the attacks demanded $10 million.

Source: The Associated Press

Printable version

In an affidavit accompanying the complaint, federal agents detailed a wealth of evidence they said was recovered when Muhammad and Malvo were arrested last week at a Maryland rest stop: The Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle that police have linked to some of the sniper killings; a brown cotton glove matching a glove found at one of the shooting scenes; two “shooting mittens”; a green military backpack containing a global positioning system transceiver; a single .223-caliber round of ammunition; two boxes of Winchester .338 ammunition; a Sony laptop computer; bolt cutters; a two-way radio; and a wallet containing several driver’s licenses issued under different names but all bearing Muhammad’s photo.

TAROT CARD, EXTORTION NOTE LINKED

The affidavit also confirms recovery of a tarot card with a handwritten note after the Oct. 7 shooting outside a school in Bowie, Md. A second, longer note demanding $10 million was found after an Oct. 19 shooting in Ashland, Va. The handwriting appears to be by the same person, according to the affidavit.

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