Prosecutors and investigators have painstakingly been re-creating John Allen Muhammad's and John Lee Malvo's movements across the country, assembling critical evidence that authorities now believe ties both suspects to the terrorizing string of shootings in the Washington area.
No eyewitnesses have come forward claiming to have seen any of the October shootings in Virginia, Maryland and the District, and surveillance video has been only marginally helpful. So authorities have spent the 10 weeks since Muhammad's and Malvo's arrests weaving a complex trail from forensic evidence that sources say directly links both suspects to several of the shooting sites.
Sources now say that investigators can definitively link Muhammad, 42, to at least two of the slayings in the cross-country shootings that claimed 14 lives -- including that of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, on Oct. 9 at a gas station in Prince William County.
A fingerprint lifted from an ADC street map booklet found near that shooting site belongs to Muhammad, four law enforcement sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The sources said the map was stolen from a public library in Montgomery County -- near several of the shooting sites there -- and was found near the scene of Meyers's killing.
Muhammad and Malvo, 17, have been named as suspects in 21 shootings, including the 13 sniper incidents in the Washington area that killed 10 people from Oct. 2 through Oct. 22. They are charged in several of the shootings, and Muhammad faces prosecution first in Prince William, charged with capital murder in Meyers's death. Malvo faces his first prosecution in Fairfax County in the Oct. 14 slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, in a Home Depot parking lot.
The sources cautioned that the map booklet doesn't prove that Muhammad fired the shot that killed Meyers, but they said it places him at the scene -- a key forensic link.
"It's an important piece of the overall picture," one source said. "Nothing is a smoking gun in these murders because we don't have hordes of eyewitnesses who all watched someone pull out a gun and squeeze the trigger. All of the physical evidence helps draw a bigger picture. It's circumstantial, but it's absolutely helpful. Every bit of it is critical."
Muhammad's lawyer, Peter D. Greenspun, declined to comment on any evidence. Greenspun has criticized the release of information in the case and successfully sought a gag order against the Fairfax County police.
"We're going to continue our policy that the case will be tried in the courtroom," Greenspun said.
The looming courtroom battles have focused the attention of the sniper task force. The members' work is largely directed at preparing for Malvo's preliminary hearing in Fairfax, scheduled for Jan. 14.
Prosecutors said they plan to present as many as 20 witnesses in arguing that Malvo should be tried in adult court, where he could face the death penalty.
"I've never had a case with this volume of evidence coming from other jurisdictions where you have to deal with a wide variety of crime scenes and all the testing and all the forensics," said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. (D), declining to comment on specific evidence. "There will be more later. We're just in the preliminary stages."
Horan has said he will not use statements Malvo has made to investigators at the preliminary hearing. Sources have reported that Malvo said he pulled the trigger in at least three of the shootings, including Franklin's.
Investigators have used the past 10 weeks to pull together additional information from around the country. The list of forensic evidence has grown so large, sources said, that prosecutors have assigned an officer whose only role is to keep track of the chain of custody.
In some cases, police have hunted down even the smallest details to place the pair at a particular shooting. When investigators found a note near the scene of the shooting in Ashland, Va., on Oct. 19, they scoured the community to find out who sold the paper on which it was written.
Two sources said police also found a package of Raisinets candy at the Ashland scene that later was found to have DNA on it belonging to Malvo.
Investigators took the candy package, the paper from the note and small, star-shaped stickers that appeared on the note and went from store to store looking for where they might have been purchased.
Sources said detectives believe they found a store in the Ashland area that sold the items to the suspects.
Perhaps the most critical element of the chain, authorities said, was what the suspects themselves said. Sources have said the snipers called authorities and claimed responsibility for a shooting in Montgomery, Ala., on Sept. 21 as a way of gaining credibility and respect. In the process, they gave police some of their most important clues.
"They basically told us to look under a rock that we weren't looking under," said John H. Wilson, Montgomery's police chief. "They essentially identified themselves. I don't think they realized they had left as much evidence behind as they had."
Wilson said Muhammad and Malvo unwittingly put police on a trail that led directly back to them. Montgomery police recovered forensic evidence that places Muhammad at the Alabama shooting scene, near a liquor store, Wilson said, but he wouldn't discuss the nature of that evidence.
Police also recovered Malvo's fingerprints on a magazine about assault rifles that was found near the scene of the liquor store shooting, sources said. Montgomery police found, hidden under a pile of leaves, a .22 magnum nickel-plated pistol that was used in a robbery-killing in Atlanta earlier that day -- a killing that Georgia police have linked to the sniper suspects.
Also connecting Muhammad and Malvo to the Alabama shooting is a Bushmaster rifle that authorities found beneath Muhammad when the pair was arrested Oct. 24 in a Chevrolet Caprice in Maryland. Federal agents have said the rifle was used in each of the Washington area sniper shootings.
Wilson said the same .223-caliber rifle killed the liquor store clerk in Alabama on Sept. 21.
"These fools tied themselves to this case," Wilson said. "We have evidence that specifically links Muhammad to the scene. . . . It's one of the strongest murder cases we've had in a long time."
Forensic and ballistics experts also have been working to make a link between the .22-caliber pistol found in Alabama and two shootings in Prince George's County in September that police say are linked to Muhammad and Malvo.
During one of the Prince George's shootings, the suspects allegedly took a Sony laptop computer and a bundle of cash in robbing a pizzeria owner Sept. 5. That laptop was found in the Caprice with Muhammad and Malvo and contained files that investigators say are important to the case.
Sources said the computer contains "cryptic notations" that appear to refer to several of the shootings. The computer's files do not provide a journal or diary of the shootings, but they allow investigators to analyze some of the suspects' movements, three sources said.
In some cases, skull-and-crossbones icons show shooting locations, the sources said. In others, maps appear to delineate what investigators say could be directions to or escape routes from some of the shootings, including the one in Prince William County.
Investigators are using all of the evidence and Malvo's statements to put together a case theory, trying to match Malvo's statements with the forensic evidence.
One source said some investigators are skeptical of some of Malvo's claims and are going to have to review recordings of his interviews. Because Malvo did not mention Muhammad -- and Muhammad largely refused to talk -- officials said they are concerned that the two might have created a plan before their capture.
"They must have had some discussions about all of that beforehand," one source said.
Malvo's attorney, Michael S. Arif, said the volume of evidence will be overwhelming for the defense teams. Arif and his partners will get some help from Washington and Lee University law professor Roger D. Groot and two of his students. In addition, they are planning to ask the court for money to hire investigators and forensic experts.
"We have to look at everything, and we have to leave no stone unturned," Arif said. "We need to get an expert for the DNA, for the fingerprints, not to mention psychologists. We need to interview all the people who saw anything, in Washington and Baton Rouge and Alabama and Jamaica."
Muhammad was raised in Baton Rouge, La., and he and Malvo are suspects in a Sept. 23 fatal shooting there. Malvo is from Jamaica.
Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said he's pleased with the progress the task force has made, but he said the investigators will use the next 10 months to sharpen the picture.
"The evidence is coming together well, and there's still a lot to be done in this case," Ebert said, declining to discuss the evidence. "A major part of this trial will involve forensic evidence. We have to be absolutely correct in presenting each piece of such evidence, and that's the focus at this juncture."
Staff writers Patricia Davis and Jamie Stockwell contributed to this report.
in Fairfax County for the Oct. 14 slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin.When investigators found a note near the site of the sniper shooting in Ashland, Va., on Oct. 19, they scoured the community to find out who sold the paper on which it was written.