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Sniper's ex-wife: Muhammad was 'magnet' for children

Mildred Muhammad is seen during her testimony at the trial of ex-husband John Allen Muhammad last month.
Mildred Muhammad is seen during her testimony at the trial of ex-husband John Allen Muhammad last month.

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Lee Boyd Malvo
John Allen Muhammad

CHESAPEAKE, Virginia (CNN) -- John Allen Muhammad was a "magnet to children," his ex-wife testified Monday in the trial of Lee Boyd Malvo, Muhammad's alleged accomplice in the Washington-area sniper killings.

Mildred Muhammad, who also testified in her ex-husband's trial, spent about half an hour on the stand as a witness for the defense. Although Malvo admitted to police that he was the triggerman in most of the sniper killings, his lawyers argue that Muhammad had brainwashed the teen into participating in the attacks.

Muhammad "was a magnet to children," Mildred Muhammad said. "He was, I guess, that father figure they were looking for."

She described how she met Muhammad, married him, traveled with him during his time in the Army and divorced him in 1999. The couple had three children, and she described Muhammad as a "controlling" parent.

"He was the disciplinarian sometimes, but his tactics were that he had to have complete control of them," she said.

Malvo, 18, is charged with killing FBI analyst Linda Franklin on October 14, 2002, outside a store in Falls Church, Virginia. He has pleaded not guilty to capital murder and terrorism charges. His trial resumed Monday after a break for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Malvo told police he was making admissions about the shootings in order to protect Muhammad, whom he referred to as his father. There is no legal relationship between the two.

Malvo's attorneys are presenting witnesses as part of their case that their client should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. (Full story) The teenager's attorneys have divided their presentation to jurors to first show Malvo's life, then the life of Muhammad, and finally to show the influence the 42-year-old man had over Malvo.

Prosecution, defense differ over motivation of shootings

In testimony Monday, Mildred Muhammad said that on one occasion she spotted a dark-colored Chevrolet Caprice or Impala outside of her townhouse in Clinton, Maryland. She said the driver "just sat and stared," and a passenger raised a newspaper as if to conceal himself, prompting her to call police.

Muhammad and Malvo were arrested in a blue Chevrolet Caprice that detectives said was modified to allow them to fire a rifle without being spotted. (Full story)

But prosecutors persuaded Judge Jane Marum Roush to block Mildred Muhammad from recounting her ex-husband's threats to "destroy" her during a custody battle during their divorce. She recounted those threats as a prosecution witness during Muhammad's trial last month. (Full story)

Malvo's lawyers want to show the ultimate goal of the sniper killings was to kill Mildred Muhammad so John Muhammad would regain custody of his children. Prosecutors in Muhammad's trial advanced a similar theory.

But prosecutors in the Malvo trial argue the shooting spree was an effort to intimidate the government and extort $10 million. The sniper shootings had nothing to do with Muhammad's custody battles, assistant Commonwealth Attorney Robert Horan Jr. said. Horan called evidence of Muhammad's custody dispute a "red herring."

Malvo, left, seen with John Allen Muhammad.
Malvo, left, seen with John Allen Muhammad.

Prosecutors fought to exclude an audiotape of a 2001 child custody hearing in Tacoma, Washington, after their divorce, but Roush allowed it to be played.

"That is such speculation it should never be allowed in this trial," Horan argued Monday. "They never made any try to kill her. They were here on a totally different mission."

A jury decided last week that Muhammad should be sentenced to death for his role in the sniper killings. (Full story)

Muhammad has been subpoenaed to testify in Malvo's trial, but his lawyers say he plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because he could face charges in other states. Malvo attorney Michael Arif said Monday that he still plans to call Muhammad to the stand to emphasize to the jury the difference in age and size between the two individuals.

But Roush said moving Muhammad "should be done sparingly" and indicated that she would prefer that attorneys stipulate to the differences, a move that would make Muhammad's appearance unnecessary.

CNN producer Mike M. Ahlers contributed to this report.

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