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Sniper Suspects Charged With Murder in Virginia; Linked to Wash. Shootings

Virginia charged both Beltway Sniper suspects with crimes that could bring the death penalty Monday, and a prosecutor said the teenager arrested in the sniper slayings may have fired the shot that killed an FBI analyst.

The two suspects were also linked by authorities to the murder of a Tacoma, Wash., woman last winter, and a shooting at a synagogue.

Tacoma Police Chief David Brame said Monday evening John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, are suspects in the killing of 21-year-old Keenya Cook. She was shot in the face Feb. 16 when she opened the door at the house where she lived.

Brame said a man contacted the FBI last week and told authorities he'd allowed Muhammad and Malvo to borrow his weapons, including a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun, while the pair were staying with him earlier this year.

Investigators recovered three handguns and two rifles from the man, including two allegedly used in the crimes, Tacoma police spokesman Jim Mattheis said. Ballistics tests confirmed that both weapons were used in separate shootings, he said.

"As a result, we now consider John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo as suspects in the Keenya Cook homicide," Brame said.

Mattheis has said Cook's family recognized Muhammad from news photos after his arrest in the sniper cases and called authorities. The man who provided police with the weapons also "came forward after the news coverage," Mattheis said. "He's been very cooperative."

Cook's aunt, Isa Nichols, used to be a bookkeeper for Muhammad's auto repair business in the 1990s. Nichols became friends with Muhammad and his then-wife Mildred, and sided with Mildred during that couple's bitter divorce and child-custody dispute, officials said.

Cook had moved into Nichols' home in the fall of 2001 for protection from an abusive boyfriend. Members of Cook's family wondered if Isa Nichols was the intended target and that Cook was shot by mistake when she opened the door.

In the synagogue case, Brame said a .44-caliber Magnum, borrowed from the same man, was used in a shooting at Temple Beth El between May 1 and May 4. No one was believed at the synagogue at the time.

Brame said there are no plans to charge the man who came forward.

Muhammad was in the Army at Fort Lewis beginning in 1985 and lived in Tacoma off and on after he was honorably discharged from the Army in 1994.

The Tacoma police informant told officers Muhammad and Malvo stayed with him occasionally between February and April of this year, then became full-time guests at his home from May until July.

In a new revelation that cast some possible light on Muhammad's past, the government of Antigua is set to investigate him for possible ties to a smuggling and fake documents operation, The Seattle Times reported.

In the East Coast cases, the pair now face murder charges in both Virginia and Maryland in the three-week series of attacks that killed 10 people and wounded three. Alabama has charged them in a killing during a robbery. No decision had been made yet on federal charges.

On Monday, officials said that Malvo may have been the triggerman in the killing of an FBI analyst as Virginia prosecutors announced their charges against the pair, which could bring the death penalty.

Fairfax County prosecutor Robert Horan Jr. said evidence shows that Malvo may have fired the shot that killed Linda Franklin on Oct. 14 outside a Home Depot in Falls Church. He would not elaborate on the evidence.

"There will be some evidence that the juvenile was the shooter just like there will be evidence that the adult was the shooter," Horan said. "But the point is, we don't know right now, and no one knows right now."

The pair were also charged Monday in Spotsylvania County with the murder of Kenneth Bridges on Oct. 11 and the Oct. 4 wounding of an unidentified woman. The murder charges were based on state law allowing capital punishment for the killing of more than one person within three years.

In Prince William County, where Dean Meyers was slain Oct. 9 while pumping gas, a grand jury charged Muhammad and Malvo with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder under a new post-Sept. 11 terrorism law.

Prince William prosecutor Paul Ebert said that law would allow the death penalty for both men — even the man who did not pull the trigger.

Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said the terrorism law gives Virginia prosecutors a "backup, another option in their arsenal" to seek the death penalty against Muhammad or Malvo if either eludes a death sentence for capital murder.

That boosts the case for allowing Virginia to try the suspects promptly, if not first, Kilgore said.

"The terrorism law includes not only the shooter but the masterminds behind these acts," Kilgore said. "We feel very confident that what these individuals have done fits within the definition of terrorism in this law."

In Hanover County, where an unidentified man was wounded on Oct. 19, the two suspects were also named in a variety of charges including attempted murder and terrorizing the public.

In all three Virginia counties, the charges against Malvo were made in juvenile court, but authorities said they would seek to have his case transferred to adult court.

County, state and federal prosecutors have yet to figure out who will bring the two men to trial first.

Spotsylvania County Sheriff Ronald Knight said Muhammad and Malvo should be tried in Virginia as soon as possible. "Everybody is looking for that to happen since Virginia has the death penalty" for both adults and juveniles, the sheriff said.

In Maryland, 17-year-olds are not eligible for the death penalty. There is no death penalty in the District of Columbia, where one person was killed.

Virginia, which allows condemned prisoners to choose between lethal injection and the electric chair, has executed 86 people since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, more than any other state except Texas. In the same period, Maryland has executed three people and is one of two states with a moratorium on executions.

Over the weekend, Montgomery County, Md., prosecutor Douglas Gansler said he believes his state should prosecute the men first, in part because Maryland had the most slayings: six.

Kilgore said if Maryland prosecutes first, "then we will wait our turn and take our turn. We hope that decision is made sooner rather than later."

A senior Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said discussions continued Monday on whether the federal government would bring its own charges. The overriding concern, the official said, is to ensure that a swift, certain death penalty is available if either defendant is convicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.