A Falls Church man who gained notoriety when he falsely claimed to have witnessed the sniper shooting outside a Home Depot in 2002 was charged yesterday with stabbing a woman to death in Fairfax County last week.

Matthew M. Dowdy, 40, was arrested at the Stratford Motor Lodge on Broad Street in Falls Church, Fairfax police said. Police then obtained a search warrant for the room where Dowdy had been staying and scoured it in hopes of finding evidence tying him to the slaying.

Dowdy is accused of beating and then stabbing Judy "Jaimie" Coate, 31, of Falls Church. He has been charged with murder, police said. Coate's body was discovered Sept. 27 near a large utility box in the 7200 block of Lee Highway, just east of Graham Road near the border of Falls Church.

At the crime scene, investigators "were able to recover physical evidence that directly connected the suspect to the victim," said Officer Bud Walker, a Fairfax police spokesman. He said detectives also did "enough interviews on the street that placed the suspect and the victim together."

Walker said police were trying to determine "the nature and extent of their relationship" and a motive for the county's 14th homicide of the year.

Dowdy was at the Home Depot in the Seven Corners Shopping Center on Oct. 14, 2002, when FBI analyst Linda Franklin was shot and killed during the sniper rampage. As police and federal agents descended on the scene, Dowdy stepped forward to offer what was apparently the first eyewitness account of any of the sniper shootings.

Dowdy told police he had seen an "olive-skinned" man in a denim jacket, crouched outside a cream-colored van inside the covered Home Depot parking lot where Franklin was killed. He told detectives the man was wielding an AK-47 rifle with a silencer and that the van had a shiny rack.

Sniper investigators were initially ecstatic with what appeared to be a huge break in the case. But as they examined the crime scene, the detectives couldn't reconcile Dowdy's version of where the shooter had stood with the apparent path of the bullet.

Dowdy then met with investigators to review photos of assault weapons and assist police artists in a sketch of the van. The van description was broadcast to officers across the region.

Two days after the shooting, as Fairfax homicide Detective Steve Shillingford reviewed the surveillance tape from Home Depot, he spotted Dowdy -- inside the store, as frightened shoppers rushed away from the shooting. Soon after, they arrested Dowdy and charged him with making a false statement to police.

In January 2003, after suspects John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested, Dowdy pleaded no contest to the false statement charge. He did not speak in court, but his attorney said Dowdy was merely repeating what a homeless person had told him.

Dowdy was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $1,000.

He has since had other convictions for traffic violations and petty larceny in Fairfax.

Dowdy was taken to Fairfax police headquarters for questioning after his arrest. He is to appear in court this morning to set bond, determine whether he needs to have a lawyer appointed and set a preliminary hearing date.

Judy J. Coate of Fall Church was stabbed and beaten to death last week.