RAY SUAREZ: Late yesterday in Baltimore, authorities arraigned John Allen Mohamed and John lee Malvo on charges unrelated to the deadly sniper spree. Today local jurisdictions began discussing their plans on prosecuting the two on actual murder charges, though it is unclear who would go first. There are seven jurisdictions involved: Four Virginia counties, the District of Columbia, and the Maryland communities of Prince Georges and Montgomery. Today, Montgomery prosecutor Doug Gansler said his office planned to obtain arrest warrants tonight for both suspects for six counts of first-degree murder.
DOUG GANSLER: The decision to charge these cases in Montgomery County, Maryland, was reached after in depth consultation with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials. Among those considerations was first that the... that Montgomery County was the community most affected and most impacted by the sniper shootings. Unfortunately, we suffered six of the ten homicides in our community. Seven of the homicide victims were from Montgomery County, and seven of the fourteen shootings occurred in Montgomery County. Second, because these murders and shootings took place in a short time span--that would be the initial five homicides and six shootings, four of those within a two-and-a-half hour time frame--and because they occurred in such close proximity, we are able to present the best and most extensive evidence here in Montgomery County. And third, the investigation began ended and was centered here in Montgomery County. I remind you, murder is a local crime, and crossing state lines to commit a murder unto itself does not make a murder a federal crime.
RAY SUAREZ: Gansler said he would seek the death penalty for Muhammad, but Maryland law doesn't allow executions for persons under 18 and that might exclude the 17- year-old accomplice.
REPORTER: Is it your intention to go for the death penalty for Mr. Muhammad? What would be the aggravating circumstance?
DOUG GANSLER: The answer to the question is, is the way the death penalty works in Maryland, you need a first degree premeditated murder. But in addition to that you need ten aggravated circumstances. The aggravated circumstances here would be the case happened during the same incident. That's why I mentioned the five murders that happened within a 16-hour period would qualify. Certainly the four that happened during the two and a half hour period would be eligible.
REPORTER: In a fair trial, fair and unbiased jury in Montgomery County given all of the passion, sentiment and coverage?
DOUG GANSLER: The question is can they get a fair and impartial jury in Montgomery County given all the coverage; my understanding is that the coverage has been wall to wall by the national cable networks and other news outlets. So I think the question of a fair trial in terms of jury selection pool would be equal everywhere; I can say 65% of our jury panels here in Montgomery County have advanced degrees. They understand the need to be fair and impartial. They obviously will be aware of the fact that the sniper shootings occurred and if they were affected by it, the question for them is ultimately would be, whether these two people are the people who committed the crime.
RAY SUAREZ: Earlier, the governor of Virginia said he favored the death penalty in this instance as well. His state does allow capital punishment for 17 year olds, as does Alabama. Both suspects are linked to a September liquor store murder in the city of Montgomery; Police Chief John Wilson.
JOHN WILSON: We're going to seek the death penalty. We want to send a very strong message to not only this community and the state but the country, that this is not the kind of conduct. This is not what we expect from civilized society and we are going to send a message and make an example of somebody. Let's assume it takes us two or three years to get access to them. I really don't care. We're going to give them something to read in the meantime.
RAY SUAREZ: Wilson said yesterday that the composite sketch from the crime matched Malvo. Today he said it was actually Muhammed. Last night a local police officer identified Muhammad as the man he saw at the crime scene.
JOHN WILSON: Our officer made no hesitation whatsoever when he was shown the picture. He had no access to the media, so it couldn't be tainted. The detectives tell me that he actually shuddered when he saw the picture and said that's the guy I saw.
RAY SUAREZ: Wilson said Malvo's link is his fingerprints; they were found at the scene and later linked to Malvo through a national database.
RAY SUAREZ: Now more details on the investigation and the two suspects from reporters who have been following this story closely these last several weeks: Del Quentin Wilber of the Baltimore Sun, and Tim Golden of the New York Times.
Del Quentin Wilber, this fell into place over the last five days, is it fair to say the two suspects really gave police a lot of the help they needed in the final days?
DEL QUENTIN WILBER: That's very fair to say. They gave police probably everything. Police, for weeks, have been stymied, you know, blocked at every pass, setting up dragnets, putting out A.P.B.'S for white trucks and vans. They really had gotten nowhere, they had been chasing all kinds of people all over the place, looking up people. They got lots of tips. Then they got a call from the guy himself boasting, saying, "if you don't take me seriously, check with the people in Montgomery about a robbery/homicide." That started the ball rolling.
RAY SUAREZ: It took a little while before police realized he was talking about Montgomery, Alabama.
DEL QUENTIN WILBER: Yeah, at first they looked around. The guy mentioned a street. They didn't have that in Montgomery County. So they said we know this guy is a bad guy in Montgomery County. They began thinking of other Montgomery's. Then they got a tip from a priest who said he talked to two guys about stuff that happened in Montgomery, Alabama. They went down there and-- bang-- found a shooting outside a liquor store that seemed a little suspicious. They got the evidence back and fingerprint on Malvo. They traced that and found him linked to Muhammad. That was the key to the case.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you we know why one or both of the men were calling a priest in Virginia?
DEL QUENTIN WILBER: We are not really sure about any of their motivations. They haven't really talked to police yet; they certainly haven't talked to us. The whole case has been rather bizarre. Law enforcement people have been scratching their heads from the beginning, trying to make sense of everything, and no one really knows.
RAY SUAREZ: Now that details are starting to come in from the investigation, itself, is it possible to say whether the assumption, the presumption, the profile that you were looking for a white man in a white van, might have actually let these two slip through police fingers at one or more points?
DEL QUENTIN WILBER: There is no question about that. At a shooting outside Fredericksburg, for example, I raced down there. It was the first time they set the extensive dragnet to catch these guys, and I went and interviewed a guy who called police right after that shooting and said he saw a white van leaving with the ladder rack on top. That's what they put out the APB for; they went on the radio and looked for this car. They had officers with assault rifles setting up checkpoints, looking for vans, and in reality, when I interviewed this guys, I was looking for a white van, looked up and heard gunshots and saw it. And from the beginning that's what everybody was looking for. Everyone was looking for white vans. Everywhere you went, everybody saw them. There was definitely that possibility.
RAY SUAREZ: But police actually had come in contact or at least sort of made a glancing contact with the two at various points during the crime spree, no?
DEL QUENTIN WILBER: Yes. Even in Baltimore, an officer approached them because they noticed the misty windows, or at least Muhammad was in the car. He was a little suspicious, late at night outside a parking lot. He ran the tags, nothing came back. Looked in, talked to the guy. He seemed normal. He checked his license and name and no warrants came up. He was wanted at the time; Muhammad was wanted for shoplifting, a petty crime not usually entered in national computer databases. So it didn't come up. The officer gave him directions to 95 and the guy went on his way.
RAY SUAREZ: Tim Golden, help us understand more about John Muhammad. How does someone who not all that long ago was fixing cars, trying to run a martial arts school end up homeless, drifting across the country with someone whose relationship is sort of tenuous.
TIM GOLDEN: It's not entirely clear, but it seems that John Muhammad's relationships with his family and with the various women that he was involved with were a big part of this. Sometime in 1999, it seems, his last marriage to Mildred Muhammed, or Mildred Williams as she was formerly known, comes apart and they separate in September 1999. In 2000, he takes off with the couple's three children. He is supposed to take them overnight. He leaves, she files charges saying he has abducted the children and she can't find them for ten months or longer. Finally, the police locate them in Bellingham, Washington. The couple had previously lived south of Seattle in Tacoma. He had moved north of Seattle to Bellingham, and he had been living sort of in hiding with his children. His business had gone south, his various businesses had come apart, and he seems to have kind of lost his handle on things.
RAY SUAREZ: So how does a young man from the West Indies enter into his life?
TIM GOLDEN: It appears John Allen Muhammad went during the time that he was sort of on the lamb with his children, he went back to Antigua, the country from which his mother came. He was trying to find work there. He was living hand-to-mouth selling batteries and trinkets on the street. He apparently, and this is largely speculative -- he seems to come into contact with Malvo and/or Malvo's mother Uma James, with whom he has a relationship. And around the time that he is living in Bellingham, Washington, back in Washington, with his children, this woman comes to the United States. She gets a job as a prep cook in Fort Myers, Florida, and her son joins her. He then leaves his mother and moves to Washington to join John Allen Muhammad. His mother eventually chases her son down in December of last year and there's a kind of a fight that the police are called to outside a shelter where Muhammad is living with John Lee Malvo. The mother seems to essentially lose this fight, and Malvo ends up with this kind of surrogate father that he seemingly has adopted and has a strong sway over him as the people say who knew them.
RAY SUAREZ: At what point does Malvo and his mother come to the attention of the immigration authorities?
TIM GOLDEN: Right around the 18th or 19th of December, various things are happening. Malvo is going to high school in Bellingham, Washington, living in a shelter, it seems, with John Muhammad. At one point, they're living in a duplex, but end up in a Christian homeless shelter. He is going to high school, but the high school becomes suspicious of where this boy has come from. He has no records, he has no transcripts and no origins he is willing to talk about. The school authorities call police, eventually there is an altercation outside the shelter to which the police are called. That leads the police to call immigration authorities. They called the border patrol, and John Lee Malvo and his mother are both arrested on immigration charges. They're detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for almost a month, we think. At that time, they're fingerprinted. Those fingerprints as a matter of routine are forwarded to the FBI, and it is through that set of fingerprints that John Lee Malvo is eventually identified as the same person who fired the gun in Montgomery, Alabama.
RAY SUAREZ: Del Quentin Wilbur, it is a little puzzling why the print doesn't lead back to Malvo until there is a connection with the D.C. area. If this crime was committed over a month ago and the prints have been in the system all along, how is it that finally the dots start to get connected?
DEL QUENTIN WILBER: People, officials and investigators are looking into that now. We're told today that the Alabama investigators just checked the regional database and would have eventually let the FBI run the prints through a national database, which they eventually did in this case when the FBI went down there and they ran it through and found the INS prints.
RAY SUAREZ: And Tim Golden, it's a long way from Bellingham, Washington to Montgomery, Alabama. Do we know what happened on the trip?
TIM GOLDEN: We don't know. Sometime around the beginning of March, John Muhammad skips out on the court date that he has for the shoplifting that he has done, which he shoplifts some steaks from a food store in February of this year. He disappears. He reappears with Malvo in July down in Baton Rouge where he's from, where he has one of his two ex-wives, one of his children or more than one of his children, it may be. And he spends three days there with relatives and he describes Malvo at that time as his son. The two of them then take off. We don't know how. We don't know exactly what their transportation was, but they take off on a strange odyssey that takes them to New Jersey where they buy a car on September 11 in a strange episode where there's a bomb threat at the department of motor vehicles office that they register the car at. Then they end up subsequently in this... apparently in this shooting robbery and murder in the liquor store in Alabama, and then on October 2, they're in the Washington suburbs in Montgomery County where the first sniper victim is killed.
RAY SUAREZ: And just earlier today, it was announced that police want to talk to the man who helped John Muhammad buy that automobile. Tim Golden, Del Quentin Wilbur thank you both -- fascinating story.