By Ernesto Londoño and Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 16, 2006
Lee Boyd Malvo told law enforcement officials this spring that he and fellow sniper John Allen Muhammad are responsible for four shootings across the country that have not been publicly attributed to them, a source familiar with the case said.
A second source confirmed that investigators have received information implicating the snipers in those shootings, which claimed the lives of two men and wounded two others in the months before the October 2002 slayings that terrorized the Washington region. The sources declined to speak for attribution because of the sensitivity of the information.
Malvo was interviewed extensively by law enforcement officials in preparation for his testimony at Muhammad's trial last month in Maryland.
It is unclear to what degree, if any, authorities have corroborated Malvo's new claims. He has provided conflicting accounts of shootings in the past and testified last month that he lied to investigators after he and Muhammad were arrested.
The claims bring the list of confirmed and suspected sniper shootings to 27, including 17 homicides, and add two states to the list of jurisdictions that could file charges against Muhammad and Malvo.
The first previously undisclosed homicide victim was a man shot in California in February or March 2002. The second was a 37-year-old Texas man shot in the head from a distance May 27 in a sparsely populated area of Denton, about 40 miles northwest of Dallas.
The two survivors are a 76-year-old Tucson man shot May 18, 2002, at a golf course in west-central Florida and a 54-year-old Louisiana man robbed and shot Aug. 1, 2002, after leaving a shopping mall in Hammond, about 45 miles east of Baton Rouge.
Malvo also said recently that the pair was involved in five homicides and two nonfatal shootings outside the Washington area to which they had previously been linked by varying amounts of physical and circumstantial evidence.
These are the slayings of Keenya Cook, 21, of Tacoma, Wash.; Jerry Ray Taylor, 60, of Tucson; Million A. Woldemariam, 41, of Atlanta; Claudine Lee Parker, 52, of Montgomery, Ala.; and Hong Im Ballenger, 45, of Baton Rouge. The survivors are Kellie Adams, 27, of Montgomery; and Wright Williams Jr., 55, of Baton Rouge.
Unlike most of the Washington area slayings, which targeted random victims shot from afar with a powerful rifle, some of the earlier shootings were conducted at close range with a .22-caliber handgun.
In September and October 2002, the snipers committed 10 homicides and wounded six people in the Washington area. Muhammad has been convicted of murder in Virginia and Maryland for his role in the sniper shootings and is awaiting execution in Virginia. Malvo was convicted of murder in Virginia, where he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and has agreed to plead guilty to six counts of first-degree murder in the Maryland slayings. He took the stand against Muhammad in Maryland and testified that the snipers sought to kill more people than they did. He also testified that he expected nothing in exchange for his cooperation.
Malvo's attorneys, William Brennan and Timothy J. Sullivan, declined to comment on the information Malvo shared with law enforcement in recent months. "We are fully aware of the universe of Mr. Malvo's potential criminal problems," they said in a statement yesterday. "We have received several inquiries from other jurisdictions concerning possible investigations."
Muhammad has consistently claimed his innocence. When he defended himself at his recent trial in Montgomery County, he argued that he was framed by authorities.
Malvo told investigators that the California victim was shot at close range in Los Angeles during a robbery, the first source said. The victim's identity, the date of the shooting and other details could not be determined.
Malvo also provided general information about the victims, locations and dates in the other cases, the source said.
In one case that matches Malvo's claim, Albert Michalczyk, a retired contractor from Tucson, was shot while playing golf at Glen Oaks Golf Course in Clearwater, Fla., on May 18 while visiting his daughter.
Standing at the course's seventh hole, he heard a loud bang that the dozens of golfers in the area initially mistook for a firecracker. In fact, it was a bullet that had struck him on the upper-right side of the chest.
"I was really fortunate that it went right through my right breast," Michalczyk said in an interview. "If I hadn't been standing that way, I wouldn't be here today."
Michalczyk said the shooting still mystifies him.
"The one who was devastated was my poor grandson," he said. "He's 9 years old."
Michalczyk said he's no longer haunted by the shooting but remains intrigued.
"I've been thinking about it," he said. "I'd like to know who did it."
Clearwater police could not be reached for comment late yesterday. Michalczyk said he considers Malvo and Muhammad suspects because Malvo's mother lived at the time in Fort Myers, Fla., which is a two-hour drive from Clearwater.
Michalczyk didn't stay long at the hospital. When he was discharged, a doctor told him he was a "lucky guy."
"You should go buy yourself a lottery ticket," the doctor told him.
Malvo also provided information that matches the killing of landscaper Billy Gene Dillon in Texas. According to police reports and interviews, Dillon was working on a yard on a quiet street in unincorporated Denton County the morning of May 27, which was Memorial Day in 2002. It was a warm day, and a storm was brewing nearby.
He was wearing blue jeans and brown boots and had 50 cents in his pocket.
About 10:15 a.m., a bullet pierced the left side of his head, blasted through his brain and exited through the right side of the skull. The high-velocity gunshot wound killed him instantly.
At 10:27 a.m., Don Lovelace, the owner of the house where Dillon was working, saw the body and dialed 911.
"Caller just pulled up and found a male in front of his [residence] with severe injuries to the head and can not confirm if he is [conscious] or [breathing]," wrote the Denton 911 dispatcher who answered the call.
The homicide was perplexing to investigators at the Denton County Sheriff's Office, which generally tackles no more than a dozen homicides a year.
"The investigation didn't uncover anyone who was mad at him," said Tom Reedy, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.
Reedy said Dillon's mother, with whom he lived, still periodically calls investigators to ask whether they have any leads.
"We were very surprised," Lovelace said in an interview. "We're kind of out in the country. We walk up and down the road. We were just shocked."
After months of chasing leads, Denton investigators in November sent ballistics evidence recovered at the scene to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington, which was analyzing ballistics evidence from the sniper scenes. Authorities in Texas later said they had been unable to link the homicide to the snipers.
Informed by a reporter of Malvo's new claim, Reedy said he would notify the sheriff of the information.
The fourth claim made by Malvo matches the shooting of John C. Gaeta, 54, in Hammond, La.
On Aug. 1, 2002, Gaeta walked out of a Sears store at a mall in Hammond. He arrived roughly 20 minutes before 9 p.m. -- closing time -- and walked back to his 2001 Chevrolet pickup truck only to find that one of his tires had been slashed. As he began to change the tire, two black men approached him, Gaeta said in a recent interview.
"One of them said, 'What time does the mall close?' or something to that effect," Gaeta said. "Then he said, 'Looks like you have a flat tire,' and he kind of laughed about it."
The men offered to help him, but Gaeta, suspicious of their demeanor, declined. Minutes later, the younger and shorter of the two returned. Their eyes locked for an instant. Then Gaeta saw the man, standing a few feet away, point a handgun to his head.
"I just figured I was going to be dead," Gaeta said. "You see a gun pointed to your head, and you say this is it. You think about family, religion, a whole bunch of things. You can't believe this is happening to you. When you see a gun pointed to your head, you think you're never going to wake up again."
The shot sliced into the right side of his neck, tore through layers of muscle and exited about 1 1/2 inches from his spinal cord. Gaeta said he jumped to the ground and pretended to be dead. The shooter took his wallet out of his pants. He had $40 on him.
Months after being shot, Gaeta got an unexpected visit from detectives from Fairfax County. He was shown a photograph of Malvo. He said he told them that Malvo resembled the shooter but that he couldn't say so conclusively.
"It was dark, and it happened so fast," Gaeta said.
Hammond police could not be reached late yesterday.
Malvo did not describe these shootings during his testimony, but there were indications that his testimony was being strictly limited. Montgomery Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan noted at one point that Malvo did not "intend to voluntarily testify about any other potential charges" beyond the shootings in October 2002. And attorney Brennan said Malvo would assert his right to remain silent "on all questions" outside of the shootings in Maryland and Virginia.
As she questioned Malvo in court May 24, Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree alluded to "other matters" that he had discussed with authorities during meetings in recent weeks, matters she said he did not testify about.
"And in fact, that was a lot of the time we spent, wasn't it?" she said.
Muhammad mentioned Denton during his closing argument, saying investigators in the sniper case reviewed ballistics evidence from that shooting. Muhammad twice misstated the date of the shooting in a confused effort to suggest that the sniper attacks continued after he and Malvo were arrested Oct. 24, 2002.
"Denton Texas -- that particular shooting was May 27, '03. Why would people in Texas -- people they got some smart people in Texas -- why would people in Texas send around to this area pertaining to a shooting that happened . . ?"
"Your honor, he's misstating the evidence," Winfree interrupted.
The objection was sustained, but Muhammad continued on the same topic moments later. "Denton, Texas -- that was November 18, that was after Muhammad was arrested," he said.
"Your honor, he's mixing dates of reports with dates of incidents," Winfree said, leading the judge to tell Muhammad to move on.