'Beltway Sniper' Tells Jurors He's Just a Distraught Dad

Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad stuck to the facts as he began questioning the first witness Friday in his second trial for the random killings that terrorized the Washington area in October 2002.

Kimberly Sadelson took the stand Friday morning and told the court how she had heard the shot that killed James Martin, 55, and saw him collapse in the parking lot of a Wheaton shopping center.

"Did you see who shot this person?" Muhammad, acting as his own attorney, asked Sadelson.

Sadelson said she had not.

Muhammad, already sentenced to death in Virginia for one of the 10 sniper killing, is now on trial in Montgomery County for six others.

In his opening statement Thursday, he introduced himself to jurors as a distraught father who was only in Maryland in October 2002 to search for the children he lost in a custody dispute — not to become the Washington-area sniper.

"I woke up this morning knowing that I needed to come into this court room and fight for my life to survive or I will die," he told the jury. "It's that simple, people."

Muhammad, 45, said he and then-teenager Lee Boyd Malvo — also convicted in Virginia and sentenced to life in prison — were shocked when a SWAT team pulled them from their car on Oct. 24, 2002, while they slept at a highway rest stop.

Inside, authorities found a Bushmaster rifle that was linked through ballistics evidence to most of the 10 sniper killings and three woundings in the Washington region. A hole had been cut in the car's trunk, which authorities say was used to fire fatal shots at random victims.

"The evidence is going to show you that John Allen Muhammad is innocent," said Muhammad. "The evidence is going to show you that my son, Lee Boyd Malvo, is innocent. The evidence is going to show you a lot."

During his 20-minute statement, Muhammad quoted Plato and referred to his military training. He likened his case to the betrayal of Jesus, and asked jurors to judge him wisely. He said he would rely on "quantum physics, immaterial evidence and material evidence" to prove his case.

He said he lost his children in a custody battle with former wife, Mildred Muhammad. He said that day, Aug. 31, 2001, was "my September 11th" and prompted his nationwide search for his children. Muhammad said he learned that the children were in the Washington area, and drove there with Malvo, who treated Muhammad as a father figure.

Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree chronicled the six Maryland shootings, pointing out that the car Muhammad and Malvo allegedly used was seen near several murder scenes soon after or before the killings.

Wielding the Bushmaster .223 caliber rifle, she described how Muhammad and Malvo fired their fatal shots. She detailed notes left at crime scenes, including one that demanded $10 million. And she said DNA found on items left at some of the killings was Muhammad's.

"They lined up these innocent victims in their crosshairs and pulled the trigger, destroying lives," she said.