FAIRFAX, Va. – A prosecutor Monday denied as "dead wrong" a newspaper report that said 17-year-old sniper suspect John Lee Malvo was responsible for most, if not all, of the shootings that left 10 people dead in October.
An article in Sunday's New York Times cited an anonymous source who said that little if any evidence pointed to fellow suspect John Allen Muhammad, 41, as the triggerman in any of the sniper shootings. The article said that could make it difficult to obtain the death penalty against Muhammad.
"I don't think that anybody in the investigation is responsible for the leak, because so much of it was dead wrong," said Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Horan Jr., who is overseeing the case against Malvo.
The Associated Press was among the news agencies that picked up the Times story, which cited five specific pieces of evidence in the case:
--Malvo's alleged admissions to two slayings in Virginia and one in Maryland.
--Hair linked by DNA to Malvo in the trunk of the car that police believe was used as a mobile sniper's nest.
--A security camera videotape showing someone who appears to be Muhammad in the driver's seat of the car.
--Malvo's fingerprints on some paper near where investigators believe the shot that wounded a Maryland boy was fired.
--Saliva found on a grape stem on a hill where investigators believe the shot that killed a bus driver was fired.
Horan said 60 percent of those specific items were reported incorrectly, but would not say which ones.
Times spokesman Toby Usnik said Horan did not respond to several calls from the newspaper seeking comment.
"If the prosecutor would like to disclose what information he believes is inaccurate, we will respond accordingly," he said.
Fairfax County police are under a gag order prohibiting them from publicly disclosing nearly all aspects of their investigation. It was imposed last week after The Washington Post cited anonymous sources saying Malvo had confessed to being the triggerman in some of the shootings.
The prosecutor said he did not believe that Fairfax County police were responsible for the leak, and Fairfax County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger also denied his department was responsible. The gag order applied only to the police.
Horan said the leaks are damaging because they allow defense lawyers to make the argument that the jury pool was tainted by pretrial publicity.
Malvo's attorneys have filed a motion seeking a copy of the confession he allegedly made when he was turned over to Virginia authorities last month. A judge set that hearing for Dec. 30.
"It's always distressing when you read about evidence that the Commonwealth supposedly has, and you don't have it," said defense attorney Mark Petrovich.