Virginia prosecutors seeking the death penalty for a teenage suspect in random sniper attacks that killed 10 people in the Washington area last fall said Tuesday that his fingerprints were on the murder weapon.
The October attacks, carried out over a three-week period, traumatized the region and led to the closing of schools, the cancellation of sports events and one of the most intense manhunts ever in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Most victims were killed while doing ordinary chores, such as pumping gas or carrying groceries to their cars.
Lee Boyd Malvo, 17, dressed in a blue prison jumpsuit, sat attentively but without emotion as prosecutor Robert Horan for the first time began laying out Virginia's case against him. Malvo's fingerprints, Horan said, linked him to three of the slayings and another attack that left a man critically wounded.
"There are a number of common denominators connecting these shootings," Horan said.
Malvo and his traveling companion, John Allen Muhammad, 42, were arrested Oct. 24 at a highway rest stop in Maryland nearly a month into the shootings. Ballistics tests connected a rifle found in their car to the sniper killings.
Muhammad, a Persian Gulf War veteran, goes on trial first. He is being prosecuted in Prince William County, Va., in the Oct. 9 killing of Dean Harold Meyers at a gasoline station. His trial is set for October.
Horan also said the police had received two notes and two telephone calls from Malvo seeking $10 million in exchange for ending the attacks.
Some of the messages contained chilling bravado such as "Get the body bags ready" and "Mr. Policeman, you can call me God."
Malvo, a Jamaica-born drifter, and Muhammad are both charged with the Washington-area attacks and are suspects in eight other shootings around the country.
The first prosecution witness called Tuesday before Juvenile Court Judge Charles Maxfield was William Franklin, husband of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, who was killed Oct. 14 while loading purchases into her car at a home-improvement store.
"I heard a noise and felt something hit me on the side of the face," he said. "I turned to the car to see what it was, and I saw my wife on the ground." What he had felt on his face, he said, was his wife's blood.
"I went to her side to see if there was anything I could do, and there wasn't," Franklin said. "She had been shot through the head."
Authorities have not speculated on a motive for the sniper attacks, most of which were carried out from afar with deadly accuracy. The victims were each killed with a single bullet. Of the 13 attacks here, 10 were fatal, and authorities have said the suspects allegedly rigged the trunk of their car with a mattress-like platform so the sniper could shoot from a prone position for a steadier shot.
The preliminary hearing, a procedural step in a long judicial process, was one of several court appearances that Malvo has made since his arrest. Its purpose for the prosecutors was to convince Maxfield that, given the severity of the crime, Malvo should be tried as an adult, in which case he could face the death penalty.
Prosecutors are expected to call 24 witnesses before the hearing ends, probably today. Maxfield has to either send the case to an adult district court or dismiss the charges entirely. If he dismisses them, prosecutors can ask a grand jury to try Malvo as an adult.