Muhammad Trial

Transcript: Opening Statements of Attorney James A. Willett

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Tuesday, October 21, 2003; 12:00 AM

The following is the transcript of the opening statement by Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James A. Willett. This is from a preliminary transcript of court proceedings compiled by court reporters Ronald Graham and Associates.

MR. WILLETT: Ladies and gentlemen, I would ask you to come back in time with me to a day almost a year ago. It is October 24, 2002. It is a day that would prove to see the arrest of the snipers, a day that would be their last day at large, a day that we'd finally see an end to their killing and their terrorism. From this day forward, the shroud of fear that enveloped so many of us would begin to lift.

From this day forward, schools would reopen, football games would be played. From this day forward, ordinary people going about ordinary tasks like pumping gas or walking across the street to a grocery store would be able to do so without being in fear for their very lives.

Come with me to the arrest scene. It's shortly after 3:30 in the morning on the 24th of October at a rest stop off an interstate in rural Maryland. It's like any of a hundred rest stops you've been in before. There's a ramp that leads from the interstate to the rest stop; and at the other end of rest stop, there is a ramp that leads from the rest stop to the interstate. At this time of the morning it's dark. There's a mist in the air. The lights overhead are halogen lights, and you can see the cones of light that throw down upon an almost completely empty parking lot.

Besides the parking lot, there's a small circular building which houses restrooms and maintenance closets and things like that and behind the rest area itself the building is a line of woods vegetation that you can't see through.

Looking around the parking lot in the distance the far end of it are some tractor trailers parked. Their running lights are on. Their engines run all night. The drivers are probably asleep in the cabs. You can smell the exhaust from the diesel engine. That's about the only sound that you can hear except for the occasional whine of tires from a lone automobile traveling up the interstate.

Looking around the parking lot facing the restrooms backed into a parking space right near there is an old boxy Chevrolet Caprice. Dirty paint job, banged up a little bit. You can see the grill work. You can see the headlamps, which are not on.

You're looking through the windshield, but you can't see inside the car because it's too dark. If you were to walk around to the side of the vehicle and attempt to look in the side windows, you would fail because they have been tinted.

It is the snipers' vehicle. It looks like an old cop car because that's exactly what it is. It is the place from which they took their killing shots, the thing that concealed them, and the thing that allowed them to escape. We can see the car, but we can't see the snipers. Where are they? Are they in the car asleep? Are they in the car awake looking at us? Or are they out of the car? Are they in the woodline across the parking lot somewhere where we can't see with a high-powered rifle ready to take the next kill shot? As we stand there, we have no way of knowing.

But the snipers are not the only people there that we can't see. If we were to look past the car, past the restrooms to the woodline, we would see no movement; but movement is there. There are men there dressed in dark clothing highly armed, highly trained. They are the members of the FBI elite hostage rescue team. They have the mission to take the snipers. They have been alerted by a citizen who recognized the car after a police bulletin went out to everybody in the public with their names and their license plate and the car description. He happened to see the car parked there in this lonely space at the rest stop, and he called the police, and the police brought in the FBI.

But their problem is the same problem we have. They don't know where the snipers are. They know an awful lot about the snipers. They know they're clever and that they plan things well. They know that they'll kill without provocation, but they don't know where they are.

Unlike someone standing in a parking lot looking at this scene, the members of the hostage rescue team have a responsibility and a mission; and so rather than wait for the car to drive off or wait for some citizen to wonder by even at that time in the morning, they decide to take action. They rush the vehicle, two to the rear of the vehicle, two to the side of the vehicle, two to the other side of the vehicle. They smash out the windows.


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