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Virginia prosecutor blasts sniper report

New York Times defends its reporting

John Lee Malvo in police custody
John Lee Malvo in police custody

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FAIRFAX, Virginia (CNN) -- A Virginia prosecutor has branded as "dead wrong" a Sunday New York Times report saying investigators have concluded that teenage sniper suspect Lee Malvo was the triggerman in most if not all of the Washington-area sniper shootings.

"I am assuming that some law enforcement source told the reporter what he wrote, and I would say to that reporter that the so-called sources simply don't know what they are talking about," said Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Horan at a news conference.

Law enforcement officials have accused Malvo, 17, and John Muhammad, 41, of being behind a series of sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington metro area last fall, leaving 10 people dead and three wounded. The pair have also been linked to slayings in Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia.

The first case being prosecuted against Malvo is in Fairfax County, where he is accused of murder in the slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church on October 14.

Muhammad is being tried in neighboring Prince William County for the October 9 murder of Dean Harold Meyers at a service station in Manassas.

Virginia prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against both men. The question of who pulled the trigger in the slayings could be important because it could affect whether a death sentence is imposed.

The New York Times cited five pieces of evidence that according to unnamed sources led investigators to conclude that Malvo rather than Muhammad was the triggerman in most if not all of the shootings.

• The discovery of Malvo's hair in the trunk of the suspects' car, which investigators believe was the sniper's shooting platform.

• A security camera videotape taken at the Franklin shooting in Falls Church that appears to show Muhammad in the driver's seat of the car.

• Statements Malvo allegedly made to Fairfax County police admitting to the two Virginia shootings for which the pair are initially being tried and to another in Maryland.

• The discovery of Malvo's fingerprints on a piece of paper found near an October 7 shooting at a Bowie, Maryland, school.

• The discovery of saliva found near the October 22 shooting of a bus driver in Montgomery County, Maryland.

But Horan said the article had numerous factual errors: "I am here to tell you over 60 percent of those [items] are simply not true. They aren't the facts of the case."

Horan declined to specify which items he believes were untrue. Asked about the possible effect of the story, he said adverse pretrial publicity could lead to future defense appeals.

'Thoroughly researched'

Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Robert Horan addresses the media Monday in Fairfax, Virginia.
Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Robert Horan addresses the media Monday in Fairfax, Virginia.

The New York Times defended the story, saying it was "thoroughly researched and cited extensive interviews with individuals involved in this case."

"As part of his research, our reporter contacted the prosecutor's office on several occasions for comment, but the prosecutor did not respond," spokesman Toby Usnik said. "If the prosecutor would like to disclose what information he believes is inaccurate, we will respond accordingly."

At a court hearing Monday, Horan also clashed with an attorney for Malvo over access to evidence.

Defense attorney Thomas Walsh said prosecutors should turn over more evidence before a preliminary hearing set for January 14. Walsh said that so far he has received little more than three ballistics reports, two autopsy reports and three handwritten notes.

Horan countered that he had a verbal agreement with lead defense attorney Michael Arif to turn over only that evidence Horan planned to use at the preliminary hearing. He chided Walsh for not having Arif in the courtroom and for not being familiar with the terms of the agreement.

Judge Charles Maxfield scheduled a December 30 hearing to determine what evidence the prosecution must hand over to defense attorneys.

Malvo, handcuffed and dressed in a green prison uniform, was present during the hearing but did not speak.

CNN Producer Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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