VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – John Allen Muhammad's youngest child had a message and some questions for her father. The message: "I miss you soooooooo much." One of her questions: "Why did you do all these shootings?"
The jury deciding whether Muhammad should be executed for masterminding Washington sniper attacks (search) heard Muhammad's ex-wife on Wednesday read letters written by the couple's three children -- ages 13, 11, and 10 -- to their father.
Muhammad -- who has sat through nearly the entire case with the same stony, enigmatic look -- appeared to fight back tears as the letters were read aloud.
Prosecutors, who rested their case Wednesday afternoon, had sought to keep the letters, all of which expressed love for their father, out of the trial.
"This is your baby girl Taalibah," Muhammad's daughter wrote. "I miss you soooooooo much." She asked him some questions: "Why did you do all these shootings? ... Did you say my name on TV? ... Did you do most of the shootings?"
John Jr., 13, wrote: "Wish you were here with me. ... I've made new friends. You were right. I have more female friends than male friends. I love you so much and nothing will change that."
Salena, 11, wrote: "I play the violin like Minister Louis Farrakhan (search). I am happy to get to write a letter to you. ... I pray that I can write you a letter again. I love you and I always will."
Mildred Muhammad (search) testified that the children had wanted to write their father for some time, and did so last week. She said she has not influenced their writings or feelings toward their father.
"I told them they have the right to love their father," she said.
Prosecutors suggested the letters provided an incomplete picture of the children's feelings. Mildred Muhammad said that Taalibah expressed fear that her father would kill her mother if he got out of prison.
"I know if Daddy gets out he is going to kill you," Mildred Muhammad quoted Taalibah as saying. "I don't want to live the rest of my life without my mommy."
Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. did not allow the jury to hear what John Jr. supposedly told his mother: "If Dad takes you out then I'm going to have to take him out."
Mildred Muhammad also told the jury that her ex-husband had threatened to kill her three years ago, after the couple separated. "He said ... `You have become my enemy, and as my enemy I will kill you,"' she testified.
In that same conversation, in early 2000, Muhammad said he would not let her raise their three children, the witness said.
Another witness said she had an affair with Muhammad while he was still married to Mildred. Mary Marez said she did not initially know he was married, and later assumed he was getting a divorce.
"We were emotional support for each other," said Marez, of Tacoma, Wash. "I feel that he has a good heart."
Marez said Muhammad became withdrawn after he lost custody of his children.
"He would just stare out the window. He missed them terribly," she said.
Prosecutors have said that one of Muhammad's motives for the sniper killings may have been revenge against his ex-wife and that she might have been the ultimate target, with the other attacks meant to make her shooting appear random so Muhammad could regain custody of the children. The judge barred prosecutors from making that argument at trial, saying they lacked evidence.
However, attorneys for Muhammad's accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, mentioned the theory during opening statements in Malvo's trial in nearby Chesapeake. Defense attorney Craig Cooley said the ultimate plan was for Muhammad to take his children and Malvo to Canada and form a utopian society.
Mildred Muhammad was guarded by two deputies in the Virginia Beach courtroom. She left the witness stand under guard whenever her ex-husband approached during a bench conference.
During cross-examination, she said that John Muhammad (search) had at first been "a good father" but that something changed in his behavior after the Army veteran returned from the 1991 Gulf War.
Muhammad was convicted in the slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, one of the 10 people shot to death during the three-week spree that terrorized the Washington area last fall.
Meyers' oldest brother testified Wednesday about the day he and his brothers drove to their 84-year-old father's home and told him about the shooting.
"He said, 'Hi guys, what are you doing here?' He thought it was something positive," Larry Meyers said. After hearing the news, "he just broke down."
In Chesapeake, prosecutors in Malvo's trial focused on several of the sniper attacks, including two fatalities, and showed jurors grisly crime scene photos.
Malvo is being tried in the slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, shot outside a Home Depot store in northern Virginia. As in Muhammad's trial, prosecutors are presenting evidence from other attacks to support the capital murder charges, one accusing Malvo of taking part in multiple murders and the other alleging the killings were designed to terrorize the population.
Malvo's attorneys don't dispute that he took part in the attacks, but they contend he was brainwashed by Muhammad and is innocent by reason of insanity.
Nearly all the witnesses who testified Wednesday had previously testified in Muhammad's trial, including several who said they had seen Muhammad's Chevrolet Caprice near the scenes of some shootings.
A survivor of one of the attacks testified he was walking hand-in-hand with his wife in Ashland, Va., on Oct. 19, 2002, when he heard what he thought was an explosion and felt a shock wave. He said he immediately thought he'd been shot.
"The first thing I did was look at Stephanie and I told her that I loved her," Jeffrey Hopper said. "And we prayed together."