MONTGOMERY, Ala. – New forensic and ballistics evidence indicates the rifle used in the Washington-area sniper shootings was used in a fatal shooting Sept. 21 in Montgomery, Alabama's top forensic science official said Thursday.
Taylor Noggle, interim director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, said the bullet taken from the body of Claudine Parker, who was killed outside a Montgomery liquor store, was compared to bullets test fired from the rifle found in sniper-suspect John Allen Muhammad's car.
"We had two people go up to ATF with the bullet taken from the body and they made the match," said Noggle, whose department performed the autopsy on Parker.
Earlier Thursday, a brief statement from the Montgomery Police Department said it received new information late Wednesday from federal firearms officials that "based on new evidence there are reasons to believe" the same rifle was used in the sniper shootings and the Montgomery case.
Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright and Police Chief John Wilson have scheduled a press conference for Friday to discuss the new developments in the case.
The police statement came after The Washington Post reported that new testing linked the rifle found in sniper-suspect John Allen Muhammad's car with the gun used in the fatal shooting outside a liquor store in Montgomery.
Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, have been charged with capital murder and attempted murder in the shooting that killed a store employee and wounded a co-worker. Muhammad and Malvo also are charged in the shootings that killed 10 people and wounded three this month in seven jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
The mayor and Montgomery police officials said earlier this week they were looking into the possibility that a third suspect took part in the shootings, possibly as a getaway car driver. The Post quoted Wilson as saying the new test results bolster the theory and that the third person could have fired the XM-15 rifle authorities believe was used in the sniper shootings.
In Maryland, Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said Thursday that investigators don't believe a third person took part in the Washington-area killings.
"Whether or not there is a third person involved in a previous crime has no bearing on the case here. Law enforcement is confident that we have in custody the two people directly involved in the sniper shootings here," he said.
Wilson did not immediately return calls Thursday seeking comment.
Katie Cord, secretary for Bright, said the mayor would have no comment Thursday.
"They are waiting on finalization of this stage of the investigation," she said.
She said that work is expected to be completed Thursday and that the mayor and Wilson would release further details at the news conference, scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at Montgomery police headquarters.
Wilson said last week that he believed a handgun was used in the Sept. 21 fatal shooting of the liquor store manager, Parker, and the shooting of clerk Kellie Adams, who was seriously wounded. Wilson said a Montgomery police officer, Dwight Johnson, has identified Muhammad as the man he saw standing over victims after the shooting, and a second witness saw Malvo nearby holding a magazine. Both fled on foot as Johnson and the second witness chased them, police said. Neither was reported to be holding a rifle.
"It's frustrating. Just at the time you figure it out, it grows another leg," Wilson was quoted by the Post as saying.
Adams was at her doctor's office Thursday and unavailable for comment. Her husband, Lyn Curtis Adams, said he had suspected she was shot with the sniper rifle because of the way she was shot from the back.
Kellie Adams has said she saw nothing to indicate a robbery or shooting was about to occur when suddenly she felt she had been struck by lightning. She said when she was lying on the ground she saw a man standing over her.
Wilson said earlier that investigators believed a .22-caliber handgun was used in the shooting since no one saw a "long gun" at the scene. But he told the Post that and official from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms informed him that the new ballistics test contradicted one last week that found no ties to the sniper rifle. He said the ATF told him Wednesday the original tests were performed before agents had possession of the rifle.