By Ernesto Londoño and Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Albert Michalczyk wants his day in court. John C. Gaeta is not so sure it matters anymore.
The two men said yesterday that learning of sniper Lee Boyd Malvo's admission that he and John Allen Muhammad shot them months before terrorizing the Washington area provides some solace.
Malvo also told law enforcement officials this spring about two slayings that had not been linked publicly to the snipers. The new cases bring the number of sniper shootings to 27, including 17 homicides.
The report of his confession jump-started investigations of cold cases in at least three states, where authorities received the news with cautious optimism.
It was unclear whether the admission would lead to new prosecutions or plea agreements. Officials in Maryland and Virginia have discussed an arrangement that could allow Malvo to be transferred to a federal penitentiary in exchange for pleading guilty to unresolved shootings, but Virginia prosecutors are firmly opposed.
Michalczyk, 76, watching television with his wife yesterday morning, was startled to see a news bulletin flash across the bottom of the screen announcing the report of Malvo's admission.
"I said all along I was sure it was those guys who shot my husband," Penna Michalczyk said. "We're just all grateful he wasn't killed."
Albert Michalczyk now jokes about his shooting. "I lost a beautiful shirt," he said, laughing.
But the shot fired from afar May 18, 2002, at a golf course in Clearwater, Fla., has puzzled his relatives for years.
"If I had been standing more to my right, it would have hit me right in my breast," Michalczyk said. "Now it's just going to be nice to know who finally did it."
In Albany, La., Gaeta, 54, had to stop shaving three times yesterday morning to answer calls from reporters. "This puts a little closure about who did this to me," he said. "I don't know if we'll ever know why."
He has spent years wondering what made him an attractive target the night of Aug. 1, 2002, as he was changing a slashed tire outside a mall in Hammond, La.
"I'm 5 foot 3," Gaeta said. "Maybe I looked passive. Maybe they thought they'd overtake me real easily. Or maybe they just wanted some quick money."
Despite renewed interest from Hammond authorities to seek indictments in the case, Gaeta said he doesn't expect to hold the snipers answerable in court. "I'm inclined to let it go," he said. "As long as there's no possibility of them getting out and hurting others."
Cheryll Witz said she has long been convinced the pair were responsible for the murder of her father, Jerry R. Taylor, on a golf course in Tucson, a shooting to which Malvo recently confessed.
"This is too weird," Witz said yesterday morning. "Basically that is him saying he killed my dad."
Witz said she recently wrote to Malvo, who is in jail in Montgomery County, asking him to confess to the slaying if he is indeed responsible. Witz said she doesn't want to see the snipers on trial in Arizona.
"All I want is a confession," she said. "I'll be happy with that."
Law enforcement officials in Texas, Florida and Louisiana said yesterday that they are trying to corroborate the claim that sniper Malvo made to authorities in Maryland this year implicating himself and accomplice John Allen Muhammad in the four shootings that were not publicly attributed to them.
Malvo told officials that the pair were responsible for the May 27, 2002, slayings of Billy Gene Dillon of Denton, Tex., and a Los Angeles man shot that spring whose identity could not be determined.
"We will be speaking with [sniper] task force members today," Wayne Shelor, a spokesman for the Clearwater Police Department, said yesterday. "If Mr. Malvo has pertinent information -- circumstantial or otherwise -- we would be very receptive."
Lt. Tommy Corkern, a spokesman for the Hammond Police Department in Louisiana, said authorities in Louisiana would like to press charges against the pair if they're able to confirm the claim.
Tom Reedy, a spokesman for the Denton County Sheriff's Office, said investigators are trying to verify the information. "Until we get official confirmation, we're treating this as completely hypothetical," he said.
Muhammad and Malvo killed 10 people and injured six in the Washington region. Muhammad is on death row in Virginia, and Malvo was sentenced in that state to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Muhammad was convicted of six counts of first-degree murder in Maryland last month. Malvo has agreed to plead guilty to those crimes in Maryland and is expected to return to a Virginia prison.
Malvo, 21, testified at Muhammad's trial that he was offered no leniency in exchange for taking the stand. Months before the May trial, prosecutors in Maryland suggested to authorities in Virginia that Malvo serve his sentence in a federal penitentiary -- rather than Red Onion State Prison in western Virginia -- in exchange for pleading guilty to shootings in several jurisdictions.
Virginia commonwealth's attorneys Robert F. Horan Jr. and Paul B. Ebert, who described the arrangement in recent interviews, said they opposed the notion when they were consulted late last year.
"They talked in terms of setting up a global plea where he would eventually get to serve the time federally," said Horan, who prosecuted Malvo for Fairfax County.
Ebert said: "I told the attorney general's office just as a matter of principle I didn't think any prisoner ought to have that option, and as far as I know the governor's office did not agree to transfer his custody to the federal system."
It is unclear whether the new disclosures affect the likelihood of such an agreement.
Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas M. Gansler raised the possibility with the administration of Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) after Kaine took office in January, a spokesman for the governor said yesterday.
Spokesman Kevin Hall said it would be premature to say whether Kaine might support such an arrangement. Opposition from the prosecutors, he said, "carries weight with the governor."
Gansler and Malvo's attorneys declined to comment yesterday.