Opening Arguments Begin in 'Beltway Sniper' Trial

John Allen Muhammad said Thursday he was only searching for his children when he and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested in Maryland in October 2002, denying that he and the young accomplice he called "son" were the Washington-area snipers.

Muhammad told jurors in opening statements at his trial for six Maryland killings that he and Malvo were shocked when FBI agents pulled them from their car on Oct. 24, 2002, while they slept at a highway rest stop.

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

Muhammad didn't cite specifics to show he and Malvo were innocent, but he urged jurors not to believe the prosecution's case that includes DNA evidence, multiple sightings of the pair near crime scenes, the gun and other items tying the pair to the shootings.

"The evidence is going to show you that John Allen Muhammad is innocent," said Muhammad, who is acting as his own lawyer. "The evidence is going to show you that my son, Lee Boyd Malvo is innocent. The evidence is going to show you a lot."

Prosecutor Katherine Winfree chronicled each of the six Maryland shootings, pointing out that the car Muhammad and Malvo used was seen near several murder scenes soon after or before the killings.

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

She showed photos of blood-spattered victims. Wielding the Bushmaster .223 caliber rifle, she described how Muhammad and Malvo fired from the car trunk. She detailed notes left at crime scenes, and she said DNA found on items left at some murder spots matched Muhammad's.

During his 20-minute statement, Muhammad spoke of his three young children, pausing to compose himself as he explained how a court gave custody to their mother on Aug. 31, 2001.

That day, which Muhammad called "my September 11th" prompted his nationwide search for his children. Muhammad's estranged wife, Mildred Muhammad, had brought the children to live with a relative in Clinton.

Muhammad said he learned that the children were in the Washington area, and drove there with Malvo. But the pair didn't immediately go to the address he had, Muhammad said, instead checking out other leads in the area. He and Malvo didn't know why they were arrested, he said.

"My son is dragged from the car. He is screaming and yelling. We are trying to figure out what is going on," Muhammad said.

Muhammad, 45, has been sentenced to death for a Virginia sniper killing and Malvo, 21, faces life in prison. In Maryland, Muhammad is charged with shooting six people in Montgomery County, where the October 2002 shooting spree began and ended.

Malvo's trial for the same six Maryland murders is set for the fall, but he is likely to plead guilty and testify against Muhammad.

A jury of seven women and five men was picked earlier Thursday from a pool of about 300.

Some of the 12 jurors and four alternates lived in the county at the time of the shootings. But they said they would be able to put aside their feelings about the case and judge the evidence impartially.