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Malvo letter denied as evidence

From Mike M. Ahlers

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The judge ruled out a letter that defense attorneys say shows Lee Boyd Malvo's fear of his 'father.' CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports (December 4)
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CHESAPEAKE, Virginia (CNN) -- The judge in the trial of sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo ruled Wednesday that defense attorneys cannot show the jury a letter Malvo wrote in the summer of 2002 in which he said his "father" was likely to kill him.

In the letter, mentioned in testimony Tuesday, Malvo wrote, "I have a father who I know is going to have to kill me for a righteous society."

Defense attorneys said they believe Malvo was referring to alleged accomplice John Allen Muhammad when he wrote "father." Prosecutors accuse Malvo 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, molding him into a killer to help him carry out the shootings. (More on Malvo's defense)

Prosecutor Robert F. Horan, Jr. argued Wednesday that the letter was hearsay and that if Malvo has spoken the words instead of writing them, they would be considered inadmissible.

Defense attorney Michael Arif argued that the letter should be admitted under a "state of mind" exception to the hearsay rule.

Judge Jane Marum Roush sided with prosecutors and prevented defense attorneys from introducing the letter.

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

In opening statements, defense attorney Craig Cooley first referred to the letter, telling 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."

Tuesday, Muhammad's first wife, Carol Williams, testified that 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.

Also Wednesday, defense attorneys continued to try to show preparatory steps taken by Muhammad leading up to the shooting spree.

A Washington state gunsmith testified that Muhammad visited his gun shop in the fall of 2001 and asked him to modify a rifle, saying he wanted his son to be able to break it down and carry it on bus trips to a gun range.

The gunsmith, Glen L. Chapman of Ferndale, Washington, said he immediately suspected that Muhammad and the white female who accompanied him were federal agents trying to set him up, because the request violated federal gun laws.

Federal law requires rifle barrels to be at least 16 inches and shotgun barrels to be 18 inches, he testified.

"I suggested that there's the door," he said. "... I thought it was a setup. ... I told everybody I knew in the business I thought it was a setup."

Chapman said Muhammad telephoned his shop in the fall -- probably November -- of 2001, and then came to the shop later that same day. Muhammad said he wanted the gun modified and discussed threading the barrel and making the gun stock collapsible, Chapman testified.

Muhammad did not have a gun with him. Malvo also was not with him, Chapman said.

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