Catherine Herridge Answers Your Questions

Catherine Herridge
What seemed like an open–and–shut case is getting complicated.  FNC correspondent Catherine Herridge is covering the twists and turns in the trial of alleged D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad, and we sent along some of YOUR QUESTIONS for her to answer.

What are officials saying about the fact that BOTH Zacharias Moussaoui and John Allen Muhammad wanted to represent themselves at trial? — Rich (Arlington, VA)

Officials will tell you that Moussaoui and Muhammad appear to be very different personality types.  Having seen both of them in action, my assessment is that Moussaoui craves attention. By taking on his own defense he satisfies this need, and in the process he is able to torment those involved.  His court filings can be vicious.  He taunts the government, the judge, even the standby attorneys who must help him.  It seems to reflect a highly destructive attitude — that he may as well make the government's life hell if he's going to spend the rest of his days in American custody.

As Malvo's attorney told us early this week, Muhammad's decision to take on the case reflects his overarching desire to control all that is around him: in this case, his own fate.  Malvo's attorneys contend that during the sniper attacks, Muhammad also sought control over the 17-year-old.  That said, by reversing the decision and "re-hiring" his lawyers Tuesday, Muhammad has shown that he IS thinking rationally. This may have been a calculated move.  By acting as his own attorney, Muhammad exposed himself to the jury without having to take the stand in this case.

Has the prosecution identified any motive? — Rosemary (Sacramento, CA)

Since the attacks last year, sources close to the case have told me they believe Muhammad may have come to the Maryland area to kill his ex-wife and take his children. After the divorce, she was awarded sole custody and moved  as far away as possible. One theory is that the sniper attacks were done as cover, so when Muhammad's ex-wife was murdered, it would be seem to be the work of a serial killer.

What is it in the case that allegedly ties Muhammad directly to Dean Meyer's murder? — Len (Saugerties, NY)

Prosecutors are focusing on the Meyers murder because of the wealth of circumstantial evidence that ties Muhammad to the scene, including two witnesses. One is a police officer who stopped and interviewed Muhammad in the Chevy Caprice near where the fatal shot was fired. Muhammad lied to the officer and told him he was in the area because the traffic had been redirected. That was not the case.  Also, a map of Baltimore was found near the scene which had Muhammad and Malvo's fingerprints. And significantly, the bullet that killed Meyers was fired by the Bushmaster rifle, which was recovered from the Chevy Caprice in which Muhammad and Malvo were arrested on October 24.

Prosecutors are using the Meyers evidence to lay the foundation for their case which allows them to bring in other attacks — not only evidence linked to the D.C. shootings, but those in other states as well. The shootings can be split into two phases. The first appear to be violent robberies of businesses, especially liquor stores.  The second phase, which began in early October 2002, saw the snipers shooting multiple victims at random.  The objective appeared to be mass hysteria.

If officials believe the motive was extortion of money, why are they are utilizing  the new terror statute? — Dawn (Alexandria, VA)

Legal observers say prosecution under the anti-terrorism law is controversial. It has never been tested in a Virginia court before.  Under the law, terrorism is defined as an act of violence designed to intimidate the public or coerce the government.  The charge was brought because the snipers demanded $10 million from the government to stop the killing.  The thinking is that the attacks were committed as part of a conspiracy to terrorize the public and extort cash.

Is the main portion of Muhammad's defense going to be based on lack of an eyewitness and fingerprints on the gun? — Rob (Annapolis, MD)

Yes, it appears the basis of his defense is the lack of eyewitnesses who saw him pull the trigger.  The key witness, Malvo, took the Fifth in pretrial hearings and may do the same in this trial if he is called to testify.  It is true that the only prints found on the Bushmaster rifle belonged to Malvo. Legal analysts believe this "no witness" defense is the best strategy for sparing his life if he is convicted.