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Feds say Muhammad called Malvo 'Sniper'

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Federal criminal complaint: U.S. v. Muhammad  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
• Interactive: The death penalty
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• Story: D.C. area victims

GREENBELT, Maryland (CNN) -- Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad gave his alleged teenage accomplice the nickname "Sniper" months before the killings began, according to an affidavit filed in support of a federal criminal complaint.

Muhammad appeared in federal district court Tuesday afternoon on the 20-count complaint charging him as the killer in seven of the Washington-area sniper shootings.

Ten people were killed and three wounded in the three-week spree that began October 2.

Neither the criminal complaint nor the affidavit names Muhammad's alleged accomplice, John Lee Malvo, 17, because he is a juvenile. Records show he will be 18 in February.

The affidavit cites a Muhammad associate in Tacoma, Washington, as the source of the nickname reference. Both suspects lived in Tacoma for awhile. The affidavit refers to Malvo as "John Doe, juvenile."

The complaint, said federal officials, lays out a series of charges in which the United States would be able to seek the death penalty under a federal law that makes it a capital crime to use a gun during a criminal act that causes someone's death.

"I believe that the ultimate sanction ought to be available here," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday in announcing the 20-count criminal complaint. (Full story)

The affidavit, filed and signed by agents of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, details the key points of the investigation.

Authorities searching the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice that the two sniper suspects used found handwritten notes, a global positioning system unit, a Sony laptop computer and other items, according to the document.

Police also found a pair of two-way radios, a .223-caliber bullet, a Bushmaster rifle and a cotton glove similar to one found at a shooting scene, says the affidavit.

According to the document, a handwritten message on a Tarot card found near the scene of a shooting at a middle school in Bowie, Maryland, matched the handwriting on a note found near the scene of a shooting outside a Ponderosa steakhouse in Ashland, Virginia -- the second-to-last shooting.

In the days after the Ponderosa shooting, authorities began getting calls from pay phones in the area from a person purporting to be the sniper.

"One such call made to a Maryland number included the caller specifically making reference to information on the Tarot card, which was not released to the general public and during which the caller referenced his desire to negotiate," the affidavit says.

Another call said authorities knew the snipers' "terms" and that they were "non-negotiable" -- an apparent reference to the letter found outside the Ponderosa, which demanded $10 million be paid on a Visa platinum Bank of America card.

The credit card was stolen in Arizona last March, and the affidavit says it was used April 9 in Tacoma to pay for $12.01 worth of gasoline.

Still other calls came to authorities in which the snipers boasted of a killing in Montgomery, Alabama, a claim that would eventually help crack the case.

"In these calls, the callers collectively made mention of specific knowledge of the Montgomery, Ala., shooting, providing, for example, the exact neighborhood of the incident, referring to it as a liquor store robbery and emphasizing the caller's awareness of who actually participated in the shooting," the affidavit says.

It goes on: "During at least one call, the person receiving the call was spoken to by two different people. During this same call, one of the callers indicated that the police should conduct ballistics testing of the bullet fragments in Montgomery, Ala."

Fingerprints found on a firearms catalog dropped at the scene of the Alabama shooting matched Malvo's prints, according to law enforcement sources.

The two suspects were eventually found sleeping in the 1990 Caprice at a Maryland rest stop in the pre-dawn hours last Thursday morning.

The affidavit says authorities recovered a single brown cotton glove "which was protruding from a hole in the trunk" and appeared to "be very similar" to another single brown cotton glove found near the final sniper shooting in Aspen Hill, Maryland, that killed a city bus driver.

A Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, model XM15-E2S, was found behind the rear seat and a "green military ALICE pack" [an acronym for "all-purpose, lightweight, individual, carrying equipment"] was found containing a global positioning system unit. Two "shooting mittens" also were removed from the car, the affidavit says.

Other items listed in the affidavit include the .223-caliber bullet, which was beneath a paper towel on the ground outside the car; a pair of "two-way transceiver radios"; the Sony laptop, two boxes of Winchester .338 Magnum ammunition; a pair of sneakers; books, compact discs, bolt cutters, clothing and other items.

The affidavit says authorities test-fired the rifle found in the car and the bullet matched ballistics tests on all but two of the 13 victims.

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