Witnesses Recall Contacts They Had With Muhammad

By Ernesto Londoño and Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Maryland prosecutors trying sniper John Allen Muhammad finished their chronological presentation of the 10 homicides committed in October 2002 in the Washington region and started calling witnesses yesterday who had phone conversations or casual encounters with the snipers.

Montgomery County police officer Derek Baliles told the jury about an Oct. 18 phone call during which someone he described as a young black male took responsibility for the sniper shootings and told him to look into a recent homicide in Montgomery, Ala.

"He kept telling me to shut up and listen and not ask questions," Baliles testified.

Baliles confirmed that there had been a homicide at a liquor store that fit the description the caller provided. Evidence recovered at that scene included a catalogue with Lee Boyd Malvo's fingerprint -- evidence that led the sniper task force investigators to look at Malvo and Muhammad as suspects.

Malvo and Muhammad have each been convicted in a sniper case in Virginia and are charged in the six killings in Montgomery.

Muhammad, who is representing himself, asked Baliles on cross-examination how Baliles distinguished between a "black person voice" and a "white person voice."

Baliles told him that the race description was an educated guess based on the numerous black people he knows, including an adopted son.

"Would you consider me to be African American or black?" Muhammad asked him. Baliles said he did.

A handful of witnesses who interacted with Muhammad before his arrest described a polite, non-threatening man.

Monica Schiffman, a manager at an Outback Steakhouse in Aspen Hill where Muhammad ate hours before the killing of Montgomery bus driver Conrad Johnson on Oct. 22, testified that Muhammad had complained that the food he ate that night made him sick.

"He told me he had thrown up in the bathroom," she said, and later asked her for a glass of warm water.

When cross-examining people who have said they saw him near crime scenes, Muhammad has frequently referred to himself in the third person. Yesterday, he warmly greeted witness Sharon Douglas, who works at the front desk of the Silver Spring YMCA where Muhammad and Malvo worked out and took showers.

"Good to see you again," Muhammad said, smiling.

Douglas testified that Malvo appeared to be quiet and shy and that Muhammad was affable. Asked by a prosecutor to describe her perception of their relationship based on the interactions she saw, Douglas said, "Muhammad is a leader, and Malvo is a follower."

Another employee at the YMCA said he ran into Muhammad in the locker room Oct. 22 a few hours after the slaying of Johnson, the snipers' last victim. Johnson was killed inside his bus before dawn in Aspen Hill, shortly before starting his route.

Muhammad, who had been in the sauna and was clad in a towel, was crouched with his elbows on his thighs. The employee, Nathaniel S. Kane, approached him to make sure he was all right.

"You must have had a hard workout," Kane said he told Muhammad.

"Yes," Muhammad replied, according to Kane.

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