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At sniper shooting trial, a son recalls a manipulative father

Teenager's defense trying to show defendant was brainwashed

From Mike M. Ahlers

Lindbergh Williams, first son of John Allen Muhammad, and his mother Carol arrive Tuesday at court.
Lindbergh Williams, first son of John Allen Muhammad, and his mother Carol arrive Tuesday at court.

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Lee Boyd Malvo
John Allen Muhammad

CHESAPEAKE, Virginia (CNN) -- John Allen Muhammad's oldest son testified Tuesday that his father was a manipulator who convinced him when he was 11 years old that his mother was abusing him.

The testimony by Lindbergh Williams came at the trial of Lee Boyd Malvo, who prosecutors accuse of being the accomplice to Muhammad in last year's shootings around the Washington, D.C., region that killed 10 and wounded three.

Malvo's lawyers are mounting an insanity defense and contend Muhammad brainwashed Malvo and molded him into a killer to help him carry out the shootings. (More on Malvo's defense)

Also Tuesday, Muhammad's first wife testified that Malvo wrote a letter asking for help to get out of his "situation" just months before last year's series of sniper attacks.

Malvo, 18, is charged with the October 14, 2002, killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside a Fairfax, Virginia, store.

He has pleaded not guilty to capital murder and terrorism charges. A jury decided last week that the 42-year-old Muhammad should be sentenced to death for his role in the sniper killings. (Full story)

'He'll take advantage of your weakness'

In his testimony, Lindbergh Williams said he loved his father, but also recounted to the Malvo jury how Muhammad repeatedly told him of the alleged abuse he was receiving from his mother.

"If you tell an 11-year-old something on a constant basis every day, every day, eventually you're going to believe it," Williams said.

Williams, now a 21-year-old janitor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was Muhammad's first son, born to Muhammad and his first wife, Carol Williams. The couple separated when Lindbergh was a toddler.

When Lindbergh Williams was 11, he spent a summer with his father. Lindbergh described his father as person with a "big heart" who loves children. But, Williams said, the man also is "a manipulator."

"If he sees weakness, he'll take advantage of your weakness," he testified.

Williams said his father "embedded in my head" that summer that his mother was abusing him, and sought to have Williams remain with him. But after his mother sought the help of lawyers, Williams returned to her the day before school began.

He said it took his mother half the semester to "decode" him from the belief that she had abused him.

Family did not act on Malvo letter

Prosecutor Robert Horan Jr. questioned Williams in an apparent effort to show that as an 11-year-old he was able to overcome the will of his father.

But Williams said it was not his decision to return to his mother. Instead, he said, Muhammad's second wife, Mildred, persuaded Muhammad to return the boy.

Carol Williams, meanwhile, said Malvo sent her niece a letter in the summer of 2002, just months before the sniper shootings.

He was "asking for help to get out of the situation he was in," she testified. Carol Williams did not elaborate on the letter, and it was unclear what situation Malvo wanted to escape.

The letter was written during a time when Malvo was traveling with Muhammad and being portrayed as his son. It has not yet been introduced into evidence.

As the result of the letter, Carol Williams testified, she met with family members to discuss the situation, but they opted to do nothing.

In opening statements, defense attorney Craig Cooley told jurors that Muhammad and Malvo visited the Williams family in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and "Lee kind of got a crush on one of John's nieces and wrote out a letter (and said) that he was despondent in it. He said that his mother had abandoned him, and I have a father who will kill me for a righteous society to prevail."

Shelter chief thought Muhammad might be a terrorist

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

The director of a Bellingham, Washington, homeless shelter testified Tuesday that he called the FBI in October, 2001 -- one month after the September 11 terror attacks -- to report that he thought Muhammad might be a terrorist.

Muhammad was staying at the Lighthouse Mission temporarily, and the director said he was suspicious of Muhammad because he had lied about having custody of his children, he had access to money and took frequent trips, and he was the only person in the shelter who never discussed the recent terror attacks.

The Rev. Al Archer said the FBI theorized that Muhammad was selling drugs to get money, and that ended the phone call. The FBI called Archer back one year later, the day Muhammad was arrested in connection with the sniper shootings.

Also Tuesday, Judge Jane Marum Roush ruled that jurors will not be able to hear testimony about comments the teenager made shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The comments were inadmissible because they were hearsay, she said.

In a brief hearing to determine the admissibility of the statements -- a hearing held outside the presence of the jury -- Ronald Lee Todd, chaplain at the Lighthouse Mission in Bellingham, Washington, testified that Malvo engaged him in a conversation after Todd had sermonized that many Muslims were peaceful.

Malvo said that when he converted to Islam, "my leaders said to me, 'And we'd like to take over America,'" Todd recalled.

Malvo added, "I'm not so sure I want to be a part of that," Todd said.

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