In early October of 2002, a serial sniper began shooting an apparently random list of people throughout Maryland, Virginia, and DC. The following is a list of his victims to date.

          Date/Time          Location                                      Dist to nearest Michaels Crafts
#0      9/14,           near a liquor store, Silver Spring, MD
#1	10/2,  5:20pm	Michaels Crafts, Aspen Hill MD                  target of attack
#2	10/2,  6:04pm	Shoppers FW, Wheaton MD                         2.7 miles
#3	10/3,  7:41am	Fitsgerald Auto Mall, White Flint MD            6 miles
#4	10/3,  8:12am	Mobil gas station, Aspen Hill MD                0.4 miles
#5	10/3,  8:37am	Post office, Silver Spring MD                   1.5 miles
#6	10/3,  9:58am	Shell gas station, Kensington MD                4.2 miles
#7	10/3,  9:20pm	Street corner (Georgia & Kalmia), NW DC     
#8	10/4,  2:30pm	Michaels Crafts, Fredricksburg, VA              victim in Michaels parking lot
#9	10/7,  8:08am	Benjamin Tasker Middle School, Bowie MD         3 miles
#10	10/9,  8:18pm	Sunoco Gas station, Manassas VA                 1.45 miles
#11	10/11, 9:40am	Exxon gas station, Fredricksburg, VA            6 miles
#12     10/14, 9:30pm   Home Depot, Falls Church, VA                    same shopping center
#13     10/19, 7:59pm   Ponderosa restaurant, Ashland, VA               7 miles (Glen Allen, VA)
#14     10/22, 5:56am   Passenger bus, Aspen Hill, MD

Breaking News

Some interesting facts

  • It is currently unknown whether incident #0 is truly linked to the other shootings. Ballistics tests were inconclusive.
  • Near the scene of attack #9, a Tarot death card was found bearing the writing "Dear policeman, I am God"
  • After attack #11, police completely shut down Interstate 95 for hours while they search that road for two suspects in a white van (possibly a Chevrolet Astro which was seen leaving the scene of the crime, colliding with other vehicles.
  • In the first attack, the sniper apparently missed his target, a clerk standing inside the Michaels craft store.
  • The other attacks left 10 dead and 3 wounded (#8, #9 and #13).
  • A key witness to attack #12 was charged with filing a false police report regarding the incident.
  • An expert sniper-in-training from the French school Saint-Cyr has been reported to have not returned from an August trip to the US and Canada.
  • On 10/23, it was announced that the sniper had requested the police state that they had the sniper caught "like a duck in a noose".

Some theories I've heard

  • He's been seen w/ a partner/spotter, so maybe he's had military training.
  • He doesn't own a white vehicle. After one was spotted near an early shooting, he made sure to only shoot when a white van or box truck was nearby.
    • evidence: After incident #10, police searched for a white van that was spotted driving away from the shooting. The driver of that van later came to the police & explained that he drove by the scene but was not involved.

Sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/europe/10/21/france.awol/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/daily/oct02/snipershootings.htm
The elusive Washington sniper aka the serial sniper aka the suburban sniper has so far killed 10 people and critically injured 3 more in and around the Washington and Maryland area since October 2nd. Unlike similar killers of the past, such as Son of Sam, the Zodiac Killer and Jack the Ripper he does not appear to have a cause to promote or a craving for publicity, some believe he is linked to Al-Qaeda, others that he is simply a madman. He has communicated with the law enforcement officials by means of Tarot card which had written on it "I am God mister Policeman", a letter and a phone call, on which according to the Police the audio was not altogether audible, and asked him to call back.

What makes this so difficult for the police is that his victims and the location of the shootings are seemingly completely random giving them very little to go on. He also targets civilians carrying out the most mundane of daily activities, such as filling their gas tanks or loading the car with groceries. This randomness and apparent indiscrimination of victims age, gender and ethnicity is causing major disruption in the lives of pretty much everyone in and around the Washington area, bringing some to describe the feeling as similar to that of the 9-11 attack.

In response to the shootings some petrol stations have taken to putting up large tarpaulins to shield customers from view whilst filling their tanks, at others the Guardian Angels have been on duty filling peoples tanks for them. Thousands of law enforcers from any number of agencies are now hunting the serial sniper, and even the military have been asked to help out with the use of various spy and surveillance aeroplanes.

Yesterday there was very nearly a critical breakthrough with the arrest of 2 men. One was dragged from a white van (the description given for getaway vehicle) parked next to a payphone outside a petrol station by armed police. The second man was later arrested at an address without incident. I for one thought they had apprehended the people responsible, but sadly these were simply illegal immigrants at the wrong place at the wrong time, and as if to make a point the sniper struck again today fatally injuring a man on a bus in Aspen Hill.

The shootings so far:

  1. 5:20 p.m. Oct. 2: Window shot out at a craft store in Aspen Hill, Maryland. No one hurt.
  2. 6:04 p.m. Oct. 2: James D. Martin, 55, of Silver Spring, Maryland, killed in a grocery store parking lot in Wheaton, Maryland.
  3. 7:41 a.m. Oct. 3: James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, 39, of Arlington, Virginia, killed whilst cutting grass at an auto dealership in White Flint, Maryland.
  4. 8:12 a.m. Oct. 3: Taxi driver Prem Kumar Walekar, 54, of Olney, Maryland, killed at a petrol station in Rockville, Maryland.
  5. 8:37 a.m. Oct. 3: Sarah Ramos, 34, of Silver Spring killed outside a post office in Silver Spring.
  6. 9:58 a.m. Oct. 3: Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, of Silver Spring slain as she vacuumed her van at a petrol station in Kensington, Maryland.
  7. 9:15 p.m. Oct. 3: Pascal Charlot, 72, of Washington, D.C., killed whilst standing on a Washington street.
  8. 2:30 p.m. Oct. 4: 43-year-old woman wounded in a craft store parking lot in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
  9. 8:09 a.m. Oct. 7: 13-year-old boy wounded as he is dropped off at school in Bowie, Maryland.
  10. 8:15 p.m. Oct. 9: Dean Harold Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, killed at a petrol station in Manassas, Virginia.
  11. 9:30 a.m. Oct. 11: Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, of Philadelphia killed at a petrol station in Fredericksburg.
  12. 9:15 p.m. Oct. 14: Linda Franklin, 47, of Arlington, Virginia, killed at a home improvement store in Falls Church, Virginia.
  13. 8 p.m. Oct. 19: 37-year-old man wounded outside a steakhouse in Ashland, Virginia.
  14. 6 a.m. Oct. 22: Conrad Johnson, 35, fatally wounded on a bus in Aspen Hill, Maryland, died later at hospital.

Updates:

Oct. 23: The Washington sniper has demanded a ransom of $10 million (£6.5 million) dollars and has reprimanded police for failing to respond to half a dozen calls of his. The ransom note which was found at the scene of Saturday's shooting was three pages long, handwritten, wrapped in plastic and pinned to a tree.

Oct. 24: Two men are arrested. 42 year old John Allen Mohammad, who was wanted on a federal firearms charge, spotted by a member of the public and arrested whilst sleeping in his car at a rest stop, along with his 17 year old step-son Malvo. A high velocity rifle was also recovered from behind the driver's seat which matched the calibre of the murder weapon used in the fourteen shootings. John Allen Mohammad, who had changed his name from John Allen Williamson after converting to Islam, is a Gulf War Veteran and a trained marksman.

Local reaction to the sniper killings has ranged from cavalier ("there are millions of people here, my chances of getting shot are slim") to terrified ("I'm keeping my whole family locked inside our house until they catch this person"). A number of changes have occurred in everyone's daily lives:
  • Schools have been on Code Blue status since the attacks first began. This means that students are not allowed outside for recess, "open lunch" for high school seniors is forbidden, field trips are canceled, student travel to vocational programs and ROTC projects is not permitted, and doors are kept locked wherever possible (excluding overcrowded schools that utilize trailer classrooms). Following a shooting in Richmond, a message from the sniper indicated schoolchildren would be in particular danger; this prompted that jurisdiction to close schools completely.
  • Traffic has become a nightmare - and the area already has the third-worst traffic in the nation. Immediately after police are alerted to a shooting, they establish "dragnet" roadblocks throughout the area in an attempt to detain the suspects. These roadblocks often lead to extensive traffic jams, and because their locations cannot be announced for security reasons, area employees have no idea if they should leave home earlier in the morning to get to work on time.
  • Local sporting events have been postponed and canceled. Because such events bring together a large number of people in an exposed outdoor place, they have been deemed dangerous. Major games have continued, but the local high school fall sports schedule is nearly destroyed.
  • Everyone is a bit more wary as they go about their daily lives. People loading their cars with groceries are clearly thinking about the possibility of becoming the next victim, and many people worry about what will happen the next time their car runs out of gas. Because many of the shootings have taken place at gas stations, they are of particular concern. Most pumps have a lever that allows the handle to be left unattended while filling the tank, and people here are making use of that feature. After setting the lever, individuals crouch behind their cars, climb back into the vehicle, or go into the service station itself. And finally, because many of the incidents have occurred where a major highway was easily accessible, some area residents are using different gas stations and stores for the time being.
  • Anyone who owns a white box truck or small van - particularly the Chevy Astro or Ford Econoline models - is likely to be stopped at some point. Because law enforcement does not yet have a clear system for determining which vehicles have been checked out, some drivers are stopped multiple times. As few as three and as many as eight state trooper cars will surround the van after it has pulled over, sometimes blocking a travel lane and always causing rubbernecking. In some cases, FBI agents have participated, "guarding" the innocent driver with large rifles while his or her vehicle is searched.
All of these reactions have been deemed acceptable by most of the area. Most previous serial killers have targeted a specific demographic - young dark-haired women, black children - but so far investigators have found absolutely no pattern to these murders, making everyone a potential victim. With so many people in this area, the chances are millions-to-one...and yet each person shot had exactly the same odds as the rest of us.

Sources
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49390-2002Oct18.html
http://www.innercity.org/columbiaheights/newspaper/05_08_01_traffic_woes.html
Local news coverage on TV and radio
Personal experience (sitting in traffic, working in a school, buying groceries, pumping gas)

Some Comments on the Arrest Warrant for the DC Sniper suspects

Federal authorities arrested the alleged DC sniper, John Allen Muhammad, on federal weapons charges. Similarly, his alleged accomplice, John Lee Malvo, wasn’t charged with any crimes, but picked up on a “material witness” warrant.

Why don’t the police just come out and say they suspect these guys of several murders? Because even serial killers have constitutional rights.

The “material witness” statute is essentially an extension of Grand Jury powers to subpoena witnesses to appear and testify. Witnesses can be arrested if there is some chance that they might be uncooperative or flee. See 18 USC § 3144.

For example, law enforcement initially sought to arrest Terry Nichols, now serving a life sentence for his involvement in the Oklahoma City bombings, on a “material witness” warrant. It proved unnecessary because he turned himself in. Nichol’s lawyers then tried to have the warrant quashed. By that time, however, he had been charged with participating in the bombing. A court subsequently ruled that, even if his initial detention was improper, it could not affect his subsequent detention on a proper warrant based on the criminal charges against Nichols.

A real difficulty might arise in the DC sniper case, however, not with prosecuting Muhammad or Malvo, but rather with evidence seized on the arrest warrant. This evidence would include the vehicle itself, with the alleged sniper modifications, as well as the Bushmaster rifle found in the trunk. Evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful search can be excluded at trial under the “fruit of the poisoned tree” doctrine: if some of the affidavits used to convince the magistrate judge in the State of Washington to issue this warrant proved to be false and unreliable, a good defense lawyer could annihilate the whole case.

Rather than risk screwing up the prosecution with a bad warrant based on speculation which might prove incorrect, law enforcement authorities got a warrant based on relatively solid evidence that Muhammad had violated federal firearms law.

In the course of tracking down Muhammad, they learned (1) that he liked to play with guns, and had even tried to manufacture an illegal silencer, and (2) that there was a domestic violence order entered against him.

Federal law, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 922 (g), prohibits a list of certain persons from shipping, possessing or receiving firearms or ammunition. Specifically, the following people cannot have guns in the U.S.A. (with cites to the statute paragraph following):

Incidently, to all those Europeans prone to comment that we let “just anyone” have a gun in the U.S.A., please note that under paragraph (g)(5), we don’t let you have a gun if you come to visit.

At first, upon mere cursory reading of the statute, I was taken aback by the charges under Paragraph g (8) against John Allen Muhammad. A restraining order seems a flimsy basis for depriving anyone of constitutionally-protected liberty, including, perhaps, the freedom to own a gun. Restraining orders issue automatically in all divorces in New Mexico, and domestic violence is frequently alleged in divorces (on perjured testimony) to get a soon-to-be-ex husband kicked out of the house pending a divorce. These kinds of restraining orders are obtained ex parte (with the judge only hearing “from one side”) and without a hearing, that is, without the affected party getting a chance to argue or rebut. Thus, it appeared that people were being deprived of the God-granted, inalienable right to possess murder weapons, in violation of the Second Amendment (which is pretty much dead, in the law) AND in violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, which is very much alive and enforceable.

Reading Section 922(g)(8) more closely, however, I realized that Congress denied guns only to people who have had a domestic violence order entered after a hearing and upon a judicial finding of a “credible threat” to the physical safety of a partner or child. In other words, this statute probably passes muster under the due process clause. The text of the paragraph is as follows

[ The following are prohibited from shipping, possessing or receiving firearms or ammunition in interstate commerce: any person ... ]

(8) who is subject to a court order that -

(A) was issued after a hearing of which such person received actual notice, and at which such person had an opportunity to participate;
(B) restrains such person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner of such person or child of such intimate partner or person, or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner or child; and
(C)(i) includes a finding that such person represents a credible threat to the physical safety of such intimate partner or child; or (ii) by its terms explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against such intimate partner or child that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury;

The arrest warrant for John Allen Muhammad: http://news.findlaw.com/cnn/docs/sniper/usmhmmd102302wcmp.pdf


The writeup was provided as a Public Service by the Everything2 Bar Association as entertainment and education regarding current events, and not as legal advice. If you think any of the above applies to you, you better get a damn good lawyer.

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