ROCKVILLE, Md. – Four witnesses testified Monday that they received cryptic phone calls during the 2002 Washington area sniper shootings, calls that eventually helped lead to the arrest of John Allen Muhammad and his accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo.
Authorities believe Malvo and Muhammad made several calls to police, and even a Virginia priest, as the pair tried to negotiate with investigators over their demands, which included $10 million to stop the random murders. In each, the callers use a code detailed in notes left at several shooting scenes.
William Sullivan, who was a priest at an Ashland church during the period of the shootings, said he received a call Oct. 18 in the church rectory. A caller used the "Call Me God" language that was found on a note near the shooting site of a middle school student, then began to refer to a shooting in Montgomery, Alabama.
"He said the police should check this robbery of this liquor store," Sullivan told jurors in the trial of Muhammad for six of the sniper shootings in Maryland.
Authorities later linked a fingerprint found at the scene of Sept. 21, 2002 shooting in Montgomery, Alabama, that killed Claudine Parker and injured co-worker Kellie Adams to Malvo. With that information, police were able to identify Muhammad and Malvo as suspects in the Washington shootings.
Along with Sullivan, a Montgomery County police officer, a Rockville police officer and an FBI agent recounted brief conversations they had with a caller authorities believe was Malvo.
Muhammad, who is acting as his own lawyer, tried to pick apart errors and discrepancies in statements the witnesses gave to investigators. He questioned whether audio tapes of some of the phone calls had been enhanced or edited.
On Monday, prosecutors finished presenting evidence from the 13 sniper shootings in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. during October 2002. Ten people were killed and three wounded during that stretch. Muhammad and Malvo were also linked to sniper shootings in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Washington state.
Muhammand, 45, was sentenced to death in 2003 for one of the Virginia shootings. Malvo was given a life term for another Virginia sniper killing.
In Maryland, both are charged with six counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of James Martin, Premkumar Walekar, James "Sonny" Buchanan, Sarah Ramos, Lori Lewis Rivera and Conrad Johnson.
A police officer testified Monday that Johnson, a bus driver who was the final sniper victim when he was killed Oct. 22, 2002, described to police how he'd been shot as he lay bleeding on his bus while waiting for his shift to begin.
"He told me the shot came from the woods," said Montgomery County police officer James Cherry, the first officer on the scene where bus driver Conrad Johnson was shot. "He told me he had been shot in the chest."
Forensics officers also testified about a duffel bag, glove and handwritten note found in the woods near the bus. The note, the third message left at a shooting scene, chastised police for ignoring the sniper's demands, which included a $10 million payment to end the shootings.
Two days later, Muhammad and accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested at a highway rest stop near Myersville, Maryland, with a Bushmaster rifle believed used in the shootings in their trunk.
Prosecutors are expected to begin their forensics case against Muhammad soon. That will likely include ballistics evidence tying most of the sniper bullets to the Bushmaster. Prosecutors have also said they have DNA evidence found at several crime scenes and on the gun that matches Muhammad and Malvo.