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Lawyers claim Malvo brainwashed

From Mike Ahlers

Malvo lead attorney Michael Arif
Malvo lead attorney Michael Arif

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Marking a switch in strategy, attorneys for the teenage suspect in last October's sniper shootings now blame the older suspect for brainwashing their client, according to court papers released Wednesday.

Attorneys for Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 at the time of a string of sniper shootings in the Washington area, suggest in pretrial motions their client had been programmed or brainwashed by then 41-year-old John Allen Muhammad.

They argue that Muhammad's programming led Malvo to participate in an October 2002 sniper shooting spree that left 10 dead and three wounded.

Previously, attorneys for Malvo and Muhammad had not publicly criticized each other's clients.

"There was a truce for a while, or at least détente," Malvo lead attorney Michael Arif told CNN. "The détente has ended.

"Our investigation had disclosed that Mr. Muhammad's involvement was substantially more than previously had been indicated [and] Lee's involvement was substantially less than has previously been indicated."

Muhammad's attorney, Peter Greenspun, said it was inappropriate to argue the case in the news media.

"The courtroom is a place for facts to be developed and arguments to be made," Greenspun said. "In these cases, law enforcement has been compelled to illegally leak evidence, prosecutors have spun theories to the jury pool before trial, and now others see benefit to commenting on the case.

"We do not. We will not. We have a great deal to say and will do it where the law provides it to be done. That is in a courtroom."

Malvo, now 18, is due to go on trial November 10 in Fairfax County, Virginia, for the October 14, 2002, killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin in Falls Church. He will be tried as an adult.

Muhammad, now 42, faces trial in neighboring Prince William County for the October 9, 2002, shooting death of Dean Harold Meyers in Manassas.

In pretrial motions released Wednesday, Arif asked the trial judge in Malvo's case to order prosecutors to release any evidence showing Malvo was "under the spell" of Muhammad.

According to one motion, prosecutors have failed to comply with a court order to turn over all exculpatory evidence, specifically more than "23 pages of police interviews of witnesses."

The motion says those pages "relate to witness descriptions of Lee Malvo being 'under the spell' of John Muhammad."

Such evidence "relates directly to the potential of false or exaggerated confession" and to the relative degrees of culpability of each defendant, the motion says.

Asked if he believes Muhammad programmed Malvo, Arif said, "Programmed or brainwashed or totally dominated the child's persona, yes."

Arif declined to discuss how Muhammad might have influenced Malvo.

Prosecutors say Malvo and Muhammad were equally responsible for the shootings. And in court documents, prosecutors say they acted as a "sniper team."

"One would be the spotter, while the other would do the shooting. They acted as a unit." Either man "could call a particular shot on or off," prosecutors say in the documents.

Malvo in custody last fall
Malvo in custody last fall

Muhammad apparently used the name of his own son, Linburg Williams, to bring Jamaican-born Malvo with him to the United States in May 2001, according to immigration records.

A source said some points in Malvo's alleged confession to police contradict known facts in the case.

For instance, Malvo is alleged to have told police that he shot Linda Franklin in the right side of the head; autopsy reports show she was shot in the left side of the head.

Muhammad, a Gulf War veteran, and Malvo were arrested as suspects in the sniper case October 24, 2002, while sleeping in their car at a Maryland rest stop.

Malvo and Muhammad are each charged with killing 10 people and wounding three in the series of sniper-style shootings in the Washington area last October.

In addition to those charges, Malvo and Muhammad each have been charged in Alabama and Louisiana with two fatal shootings, one in each state, that happened in late September before the spree began in Washington.

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