Indiana Gazette from Indiana, Pennsylvania on October 27, 2002 · Page 12
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Indiana Gazette from Indiana, Pennsylvania · Page 12

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Sunday, October 27, 2002
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Page 12
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B-2 — Sunday, October 27, 2002 NATION (gazette THE WASHINGTON-AREA SNIPER Suburbs regain some normalcy Buses from across the country joined a procession on the capital belfway Saturday. They were in the area for a memorial service for Conrad Johnson, a bus driver killed by the sniper Tuesday. (AP photos) Sniper letter may be helpful in trial, ex-prosecutor says By AL BAKER New York Times News Service ASHLAND, Va. — On Oct. 19, the Washington-area snipers struck for the 12th time, wounding a man in the parking lot of a Ponderosa Steakhouse and leaving a four-page letter •in the woods nearby. The letter, handwritten on lined paper, demanded $10 million and warned of more bloodshed if the police tried to catch the snipers instead of meeting their demands. : The details of the letter emerged Saturday, two days after John Allen Muhammad, 41, an Army veteran, and John Lee Malvo, 17, a Jamaican, were arrested Thursday in the shootings, which killed 10 people and wounded three in the Washington region. The letter, published Saturday in The Washington Post, reflects the snipers' growing anger over the failure of efforts to communicate with federal and local authorities. It gave investigators detailed information about a bank credit-card account that the shooters wanted to be activated, and it told of their efforts to speak to a Roman Catholic priest here. A law-enforcement officer in Virginia" said Saturday, "Now you can understand why we couldn't talk about the letter while the investigation was ongoing." The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the letter was a critical break in an often frustrating case and that it helped lead the authorities to the two suspects. "Each piece of information was vital in this investigation," the official said. "No one piece broke this cast- wide open; every piece was vital; and this was one important piece." Toby Vick, a former state and federal prosecutor in Virginia, said the letter would help prosecutors. Investigators will work to make it "a very significant piece of trial evidence," Vick said, in part by comparing the handwriting of Muhammad and Malvo with that of the letter and checking its assertions against other evidence. The letter included grammatical errors and opened with a cover page containing three sentences surrounded by five stars. It said, "For you Mr. Police. Call Me God. Do not release to the press." Then the letter warned the authorities about the risk of not cooperating and instructed them to place $10 million into a Bank of America Visa- card account. Information from a stolen credit card was included, as were instructions to activate the ac- The cover of the four-page letter. count so the snipers would be able to withdraw cash anywhere in the world. "If stopping the killing is more important than catching us now, then you will accept our demand which are nonnegotiable," the letter said. The writers later indicated that they understood the risk of being caught associated with their demands. "Try to catch us withdrawing at least you will have less body bags. But if trying to catch us now more important then prepare you body bags," the letter said. "If we give you our word that is what takes place. Word is Bond." The letter ended with a chilling threat. "P.S.," it said, "your children are not safe anywhere at any time." Nerves ease as charges are filed By SARA KUGLER Associated Press Writer ROCKVLLLE, Md. —A man sought as a material witness in the Washington-area sniper shootings was arrested Saturday as.area residents, finally feeling safe after three weeks of terror, returned to the normalcy of soccer games and weekend shopping. "I feel like I woke up from a nap, and I'm getting used to not being scared anymore," Ethan Johnson said after purchasing a 15- pound pumpkin at a farmers market that had been closed the previous week because of the killings. The last of the sniper's victims, bus driver Conrad Johnson, was mourned Saturday at a service in Silver Spring, where two . dozen buses carrying transit workers joined the funeral procession. The 35-year-old father of two, gunned down Tuesday as he prepared to start his route, with the 1.0th person killed in the attacks in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Three other people, including a 13- year-old boy, were wounded. Maryland authorities charged John Allen Muhammad, 41, and teenager John Lee Malvo with six counts of first-degree murder Friday in the shootings. A third man, believed to be the co-owner of a blue Chevrolet Caprice the suspects were found in a day earlier, was arrested Saturday and being held as a material witness. Nathanel O. Osbourne, a man of Jamaican descent who has lived in Camden, N.J., was arrested at a home in Flint, Mich. lie was to appear in court today but was not considered a suspect in the shootings, FBI Agent Barry Maddox said; According to the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Muhammad and Osbourne bought the blue Caprice from Sure Shot Auto Sales Inc. in Trenton oh Sept. 10. Authorities say a hole cut in the car's trunk could have allowed a sniper to fire at unsuspecting victims from the concealment of the car's interior, leaving no evidence. With suspects in custody, communities terrorized by the shooting spree gleefully welcomed the end of school lockdowns and cancellations of outdoor events. "The kids are loving it. They've been going crazy locked-up," Vicki Edwards said as she watched her 9- year-old daughter's soccer game, which had been canceled the previous two weekends. "Once they announced the charges, that's when I really started to relax," said Mark Rogers, a retired police officer whose daughter couldn't wait lo get back on a soccer field in Rockville. "After that, we could all kind of let our hair down and get OSBOURNE back to life." According to the FBI, police in Baltimore had spoken with Muhammad on Oct. 8, during the shooting spree, after finding him asleep in the car. Muhammad told the officer he was traveling, and police, looking for a white van, did not detain him. The New York Times reported Saturday that the two were pulled over and then released two other times. The Washington Post said authorities had spotted the Caprice and recorded its New Jersey license-plate number at least 10 times but had no reason to link it to the sniper attacks until last week. Montgomery County authorities were the first to file murder charges in connection with the sniper attacks, covering the six deaths in their area. They said they would seek the death penalty against Muhammad. Malvo would be tried as an adult, but the death penalty could not be applied if his reported age of 17 is verified. Maryland law does not allow the death penalty for people convicted of crimes committed under age 18. Alabama, where the two are charged with killing a woman outside a liquor store in September, allows the death penalty for crimes committed at the age of 16 or older. So does Virginia, site of some of the shootings. The Montgomery County state's attorney, Douglas Gansler, said Saturday that he hopes to continue discussions with other prosecutors about where the suspects will be tried first. "My understanding is that it will be resolved this week," he said, but he added no meetings were scheduled. Gansler said each jurisdiction has a vital interest in the case but Montgomery County is the "community most affected and most impacted by the shootings." There was no immediate indication when Virginia authority would file any charges. "There's no hurry," Robert F. Horan Jr., prosecutor in Virginia's Fairfax County, said Saturday. "They're not going anywhere." Horan said that he was surprised mat Maryland had filed charges so quickly, "particularly since there's a great deal of evidence that has not been processed." Justice Department officials were still deciding whether to bring charges. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said federal prosecutors could use the Hobbs Act, which allows the government to seek the death penalty in murders where killers try to extort money. Law-enforcement sources have said two letters left behind in the sniper cases demanded $10 million. Alabama officials filed their own murder charges against the two suspects in a Sept. 21 liquor-store killing in Montgomery and said they would seek the death penalty. Sniper suspect seen as devoted father, angry husband Continued from page B-l tion rights. "I suspect he went to Maryland because some friend of a friend let it drop that she was in Maryland," the attorney said. "I think if he would have actually located her, we would have seen his violence more directed at her, not others." Mildred Muhammad had reason to hide from her ex-husband. She filed for divorce in December 1999, hut their bitter fight over custody and visitation of their children lasted long after mat. In the months following the divorce filing, Muhammad would try to visit his kids regularly and often the visits broke down into fighting between parents. Police were called more than once. "We didn't really know what it was at the time," said Lee Ann Terlaje, who lives several doors down from the gray single-story house where Muhammad and his family lived. "But every now and then, there would be cops there." One day in March 2000 Muhammad came to the home to see his kids. He picked them up, hut didn't come back. Instead, he fled with his daughters and son to Antigua, in the Caribbean. Mildred; claimed in court documents that she couldn't talk to her children or contact Muhammad, but Muhammad has claimed she and their children talked regularly. He even said he could get telephone records to prove it, but he never produced them for attorney Mills. In Tacoma, Mildred was nonetheless frantic, so much so that at one point she ended up briefly in a Tacoma hospital. While there, according to court records, Muhammad called her and threatened to kill her. A previous marriage Muhammad also had tried to gain custody — also unsuccessfully — of a child he had with his first wife. After son Lindberg visited his father in Tacoma in 1995, Muhammad filed a court motion to gain custody, claiming that Carol Williams abused their child and was an unfit mother. Me had made similar statements when the two divorced. A judge nonetheless decided that the child belonged with his mother, in part because Muhammad's own brother testified against him. While Muhammad was apparently vengeful toward his former wives, some who know him say he wasn't that way with his kids. Like everything he did — he it his fife in the military, his conversion to Islam, his mastery of auto mechanics — Muhammad took fathering seriously. As a result, he was certainly stern and demanding, family and friends say, but never mean-spirited. He made his kids run for exercise, kept them on strict diets. He could control their behavior with little more than a stern look. "He made his kids run," said Sheila Tezano, whose sister Carol was Williams' first wife, "but 1 wouldn't say they were afraid of him." At karate class, Muhammad would pressure his son to be more forceful, more disciplined, even though he already could count in Japanese and recite the names of maneuvers by rote. A former high school football player himself, Muhammad filmed his son's flag football games and watched for errors. Despite being a taskmaster, friends and family say Muhammad always seemed happy playing with his kids. "John was a fun person," said Yvonne Bradford, who is married to Muhammad's uncle. "He was the WILLIAMS type who was good with the kids and would roll around with them and let them ride on his back." Muhammad's estrangement from his own children, both in Louisiana and Maryland, may have also played a role in his strange relationship with John Lee Malvo, the other suspected Washington-area sniper. In Washington state and in Louisiana, Muhammad introduced Malvo to friends and family as his son, sometimes his stepson. Malvo referred to him as father. At a homeless shelter in the town of Bellingham, Wash., where the two lived, managers thought the two were father and son. At a YMCA, they thought the same thing. Malvo's mother, Uma James, knew better, though, and tried to get her son from Muhammad's influence. On Dec. 14, James walked into the Bellingham Police Department to get help in recovering her son from Muhammad, said Bellingham Lt. Dae' Jamison. Police contacted Muhammad and Malvo at the Lighthouse Mission where they were staying. But neither Muhammad nor lames could prove any parental lineage, according to Jamison, and Malvo was briefly turned over to child protective services. How Muhammad, lames and Maivo came to know each oilier is unclear. They may have met in the Caribbean when Muhammad fled there with his children. Four days after she walked into the police headquarters, James and Malvo were arrested by the Border Patrol and held for about 3 1/2 weeks on charges that they entered the country illegally. They were released when James posted a $1,500 bond. A court hearing to consider their deportation is scheduled for next month in Seattle. In a report, Immigration and Naturalization Service officers said James and Muhammad had "some sort of custody dispute" over Malvo. "Police told John Muhammad to leave and not to interfere with the mother and son," INS officers wrote in the report. But Muhammad did continue to interfere.. Within a few months, Muhammad and Malvo were living together again, shooting a .223 caliber rifle into a stump outside a duplex in Tacoma. Shortly after that, the two set off on a cross-country journey that would eventually lead them to the Washington, D.C. area. Along the way, they stopped in Louisiana, Muhammad's home state. "When he came in the door, he introduced him (Malvo) as his son," said Bradford, a schoolteacher who lived behind Williams when he was growing up. "He said he wanted to let Little John see where he came from." "Little John" also is the name Muhammad called his natural son in Tacoma. Muhammad also told relatives he wanted badly to see his other children in Louisiana. Along with son Lindberg, he has another son in Louisiana, Travis, in his 20s, by a woman he never married. What Bradford and others remember most about Malvo is how well- mannered he was, always polite, always referring to Muhammad as "father." Some family members said they were confused by the relationship, but understandably so. They were unsure about Muhammad's disposition with his kids by Mildred, and Muhammad didn't reveal much. Besides, given his well-known philandering, Muhammad could have had another son through another relationship. Tezano had an almost eerie recollection of the visit over the summer by Malvo and her ex-brother-in-law. " When you saw they standing right together," she said, "they looked a lot alike." Few answers How Muhammad's shattered family life factored into his relationship with Malvo and with his alleged sniping spree may never become clear. For now, investigators have said little about whether Muhammad and Malvo are cooperating with authorities or giving any clues to motive. In the meantime, some say Muhammad's failed family life can't be overlooked. Familial problems, especially involving custody fights, often lead to violence, experts say. Dominating personalities, such as Muhammad's also can be a big factor. "If someone's in a family situation where they're in control, and all the sudden they lose control, they can do something like this to send a message," said Helfgott, the Seattle University professor. "They want to show they're still in power." Bob Karls runs a self-help group near Seattle for fathers who arc separated from their children. Over the years, Karls said he has seen fathers affected in myriad ways by losing their kids. Sometimes, they turn to alcohol or drugs. Other times they simply become depressed. Occasionally, they turn to violence. "You're talking about your own flesh and blood," Karls said. "It's very stressful thing ... that mentally or emotionally can be more than some guys can take." WALTER MONDALE ... Senate "sweet spot" ... Mondale likely to run, some say ByADAMCLYMER and ADAM NAGOURNEY New York Times News Service WASHINGTON — Associates of Walter F. Mondale said Saturday mat the former vice president was likely to agree to a growing call among Democrats here and in Minnesota to run for the Senate seat left vacant by the death Friday of Sen. Paul Wellstone. Mondale's friends said the Minnesota Democrat, who was Jimmy Carter's vice president, had not decided and would wait until after the funeral or memorial services before doing so. Mike Berman, a political associate for nearly 40 years, said, "He was just so sad when I talked to him." But the friends suggested mat the coinciding of.the Democratic Party's urgent political need with Mondale's long-standing affection for the Senate would result in his re-entering politics at 74. Democratic leaders here and in Minnesota said they were proceeding gingerly in trying to negotiate the replacement of Wellstone on the ballot. "For this to work, it has to feel—and in fact be — nonpdlitical," said one senior Democratic strategist. "It has to be seen as a continuation of the Wellstone movement." Yet with the election in 10 days — and with control of the U.S. Senate possibly hanging on what happens in the race—Democrats said it was urgent that they resolve how to proceed in what had been a very tight race against the Republican, Norm Coleman. Senior Democratic leaders said Saturday that they viewed Mondale as the strongest candidate they could run, and they predicted that he was almost certain to defeat to Coleman. "Given the circumstance, the consensus among national Democrats is that he's our best choice," a senior Democratic official said. Several Democrats suggested that depending on how the transfer of the nomination was accomplished, Mondale could be a more formidable opponent for Coleman than Wellstone was. The Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, spoke with Mondale on Friday night about the possibility of running but Mondale was noncommittal, Democratic officials said. Daschle flew to Minnesota on Saturday, though aides said he was there for the wedding of a friend. He had been scheduled to campaign today with Well- stone. Mondale did not return a telephone call Saturday seeking comment. But one telling clue to Mondale's sentiments could be found in a speech that he gave at the Senate on Sept. 4, and Democrats were closely examining that Saturday. "My Senate years were the happiest of my political career," he said. "I found my sweet spot here. I loved working with friends and colleagues. I loved learning new things. I loved watching my colleagues do their stuff. It reminded me of what Mark Twain once said, that 'politicians either grow or they swell.' Eighteen hours a day, every day, it was like mainlining human culture." It appeared that the machinations of replacing Wellstone would be deferred while his friends and supporters deal with his death. A memorial service or funeral had not been scheduled as of Friday night, and several officials said it might not take place before early next week.

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