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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Men Held in Connection with Washington Area Sniper Deaths

Aired October 24, 2002 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up next on INSIDE POLITICS, we continue CNN's extensive coverage of the sniper attacks and the overnight arrest of two men at a Maryland rest stop. We'll have the latest on the investigation, the evidence and the suspect as well as a look ahead to what happens next.
Wolf Blitzer joins me for a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS next, but first a quick "News Alert."

(NEWS ALERT)

WOODRUFF: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

After more than three weeks of terror in and around the nation's capitol, two men are in custody and police are optimistic that the sniper case has been solved.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Montgomery County, Maryland where the suspects were originally brought. But now the focus of attention shifts to their arraignment in Baltimore.

Complete coverage of this breaking story is ahead on a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS, the sniper attacks.

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Authorities say they believe the two men now in custody are behind the sniper shootings. One official is quoted as saying, "We are positive it is these guys."

The story still is unfolding. Here is what we know now. The suspects are identified as 41-year-old Gulf War veteran John Allen Muhammad and 17-year-old John Lee Malvo. Malvo is in Baltimore facing arraignment in a closed hearing at this hour. Muhammad also is due there for his own appearance in federal court.

Police captured the pair overnight as they slept in their car at an interstate rest stop about 50 miles northwest of Washington. A driver recognized the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice as the car being sought in the sniper probe and tipped off investigators.

Authorities found a Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle behind a seat inside the car. The rifle fires the kind of bullets used in the sniper attacks which killed 10 people and wounded three others.

My colleague Wolf Blitzer is at police headquarters in Montgomery County, Maryland with more on the suspects, their possible motives and how authorities were led to them.

Hello, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hi, Judy.

We're standing by here. We expect within a couple hours or so the Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, joined by others, to emerge and to provide some context, some specifics what precisely is going on, though we're learning a great deal. We have learned a great deal over the course of these many, many hours.

For more information, though, I want to bring in our justice correspondent Kelli Arena. She's been covering this story and looking in, specifically, to two very important factors, the gun and the car.

Fill us in on both those aspects, Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as Judy reported, it was a Bushmaster rifle that fired a .223 round that was found in the vehicle. It was found behind the seat in the car.

Also recovered from the car was a scope and a tripod. All of these items are going through ballistics and other testing at the ATF lab and then probably over to the FBI lab.

Also in that vehicle, investigators learned that you could fold down the back seat of the vehicle, which would allow access to the trunk. And in the trunk was set up a sniper flat form. It has been described by officials as a sniper platform. Basically what this would do would be to allow someone to perch in the vehicle without getting out, shoot from the vehicle, close the trunk, drive away. It could explain why there was such a lack of witnesses during many of these shootings.

Now, about a little bit about the relationship between these -- the two individuals. We had reported, according to several officials, that there was a -- that they were stepfather and stepson. And it turns out, Wolf, that that is not the case. They did live together in the Washington state -- in the Tacoma area of Washington state.

There is a relationship. It has yet to be determined exactly what that relationship was, Wolf.

BLITZER: But not necessarily legally stepfather/stepson. We have confirmed that.

Briefly walk us through how the police and other law enforcement authorities put the pieces of this puzzle together.

ARENA: Well, Wolf, there was a tip that was called in concerning a crime scene in Montgomery, Alabama, where a shooting took place. Two women were shot, one fatally in a liquor store. And investigators traced their way back to Montgomery, Alabama. And there they found a fingerprint from a magazine that was picked up at that crime scene that matched Malvo's fingerprint. The reason his fingerprints were on file was because he had a juvenile record. They then traced him to the Tacoma, Washington area, where they linked him with Muhammad. That led investigators to trying to track those individuals. After the shooting in Ashland, Virginia, Wolf, investigators were out canvassing the area with photos of the two men. They realized that they had -- that at least Malvo was said to have stayed in a motel right near the Ponderosa restaurant, within walking distance where you remember one of the fatal shootings took place in Virginia.

He was -- we are told by investigators that he stayed there on the 18, 19 and 20 of this month. U.S. Marshals did some more digging, attached a vehicle to the senior, John Muhammad, came up with a make, model, license plate number.

Of course, that "a be on the lookout" was issued last night and they were eventually picked up as they were found sleeping in their vehicle.

And Wolf, we have a little more personal information about the junior, this 17-year-old Malvo. He apparently was taken into INS custody in Bellingham, Washington. It was on December 19. It was a situation involving his mother that involved her being questioned or taken into custody by law enforcement. Not clear at this point.

But his being a minor and being an undocumented minor here in the United States, he was turned over to INS. He was eventually released by the immigration and naturalization service. It's not clear whether it was on his own recognizance, as he is 17, or if he was released into the custody of an adult.

He was due back in court on November 20, this November 20, coming up for a hearing, an INS hearing, one that he won't be making, Wolf.

BLITZER: Obviously, that's true.

Our Kelli Arena, she's been on top of this story all day, indeed all of these many, many days since October 2. Thanks for that report.

I want to bring in our other reporter who has been on top of this story. We've had many. But CNN's Kathleen Koch is joining me now live here from the Montgomery County police headquarters.

Kathleen, at this hour, these suspects are being arraigned in Baltimore. Tell us about that.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we know at this point is that John Lee Malvo, again who is only 17, is being -- is in the middle of a closed court proceeding in federal court in Baltimore. That proceeding is, of course, closed because he is a juvenile.

Now, he was arrested on what's called a material witness warrant. No decision apparently has been made at this point as to what he will be finally charged with. The other person who was taken into custody, of course, John Allen Muhammad, is on his way, we are told, to federal court in Baltimore and has not yet arrived and we believe that at that point, obviously, he is going to be facing these charges on violation of federal firearms laws and apparently that stems from a domestic abuse case that occurred in Washington state in Pierce County back in 2000 when a restraining order was put out against him to protect his wife, Mildred Denise Muhammad and their three children.

Federal sources tell CNN that when you are the subject of one of these restraining orders you are not allowed to possess any type of firearm. And obviously, not only are we being told by law enforcement sources was Muhammad found in possession of this Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle, but also, several months ago, in recent months in the Tacoma area, that Muhammad was spotted at the home of an old army acquaintance Robert Edward Holmes and at that point displayed an AR-15 assault rifle or a .303 or .306 assault rifle, all of that in violation of this restraining order which was -- which says he absolutely cannot own any firearms.

BLITZER: And we might get some more information in the next couple of hours right behind us when the police chief, we are expecting, will emerge and speak to reporters together with the ATF, the FBI and the county executive, presumably others as well.

KOCH: Well, you know, actually I did check in on that, wondering if other jurisdictions might be represented since these killings took place, you know, in six different counties, as well as the District of Columbia. Those I spoke with at the various law enforcement agencies say they believe it's going to be pretty much the chief, the ATF, FBI, et cetera.

And they say it will take place at 6:00, but you know, Wolf, these things tend to slide a little bit, there is so much happening in this case. So, it may be 6:30, it may be 7:00. We'll just have to wait and see.

BLITZER: Whenever it is, we'll have live coverage.

KOCH: We will.

BLITZER: Kathleen Koch, thanks very much.

KOCH: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Judy, that's it for now here in Montgomery County, back to you in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, wolf. And we'll come back to you shortly.

If and when Muhammad and Malvo actually are charged in the sniper shootings, the questions already being asked is, Will it be a complicated case to prosecute.

CNN's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is with us now from New York.

Jeffrey, at this point what are the charges expected to be against these two men?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, today the charges are pretty straightforward and, frankly, fairly minor. John Malvo is being arraigned at this moment on -- as a material witness in the investigation of the sniper. You'll probably recall that in the 9/11 investigation, the government held a lot of people on material witness warrants.

And the question is How long can you hold someone? It turns out the answer is pretty long he long, probably several months. But it's really just a placeholder till the prosecution decides what to do about charging him, if at all, in relation to the sniper case.

John Muhammad it's a different story. He is being held on this weapons charge, being a person who has a restraining order against you, and possessing a weapon is a federal offense. He will be held on that.

Basically, the only purpose of today's proceeding is to get them into the system, get a lawyer, deal with the issue of bail. And I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb saying I don't think they're getting out on bail today.

WOODRUFF: Well, Jeffrey, let me ask you this -- obviously speculation involved here. You know, these cases always look strong at this point.

TOOBIN: Sure.

WOODRUFF: But once you get closer to trial, the defense attorneys get involved, as they rightfully will, how strong a case is this likely to turn out to be? And I'm asking you to step into the realm of speculation.

TOOBIN: Well, if in fact the gun that was found in the car matches the ballistics of all 13 shots, I think it's a pretty strong case.

I mean, obviously, we don't know -- we don't know if that's the case. But I think the fact that they had a .223 -- a gun that fires .223 shells in the car, that's what a defense attorney would call a bad fact. One thing a defense attorney will certainly be able to point to in this case is what happened to the white van? Didn't the government say that someone driving a white van committed these crimes?

I mean, that obviously is going to be an area that the defense will want to investigate. But as you point out, it's a very early stage and it's very hard to handicap it at this point.

WOODRUFF: Jeffrey, I want to ask you to stand by because I'm told that we now have an audiotape of an interview done with a trucker -- a truck driver named Dale Summers. This is the man who saw the suspect's car pulled over at that rest stop in Maryland and who called authorities. This is an interview that was done with him just a short time -- I'm sorry, it's a video interview done with him.

Let's watch and listen. Dale Summers is the man's name.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RON LANCZ, TRUCK DRIVER: Well, I left Wilmington, Delaware at 11:00, 10 minutes to 1:00 I pulled in the rest area at Myersville, what the little town called Myersville, that's between Baltimore and Hagerstown rest area. I pulled in, I heard Bozo talking about the description of the car, make of the car, the model of the car, the license plate number. I pulled in with another driver behind me and I told the other driver that car don't look -- looks kind of obvious and I stood there a little bit. I was talking to him on the radio.

He said, Well, what are we going to do? I said I'm going to call 911. So I called 911. They told me, We'll be there as soon as possible. We'll be there right away. Didn't say how long. He said, You stay right where you're at. I said, OK.

In the meantime, somebody else come up there -- I'm not going to tell you who it -- I don't know who it was. And they told me to go up and block the entrance where they come out so they couldn't get out so me and this other driver blocked the entrance where they couldn't get out. About 15, 20 minutes later at the latest that place was full of FBI and all the stuff and they found the people, they found the guns, they found the tripod, they found the scope and they found a little hole in the back of the car that had been shot.

BILL PRICE, LOCAL REPORTER: Ron, that must have been the longest 15 minutes of your life waiting for the police.

LANCZ: It was a long 15 minutes. It was a long 15 minutes. I felt like I could sleep all night and I haven't been asleep yet.

PRICE: Now, you know, a lot of people in the neighborhood are already calling you a hero for having made that call. How do you feel about that?

LANCZ: I'm no hero. I just don't want people -- I just want people to think what I did is what I should have done. I am no hero at this, no hero whatsoever. I don't even want to be thinking of as a hero. I just want everybody to tell me thanks, walk away and forget about it. That's what I want.

PRICE: And you had had a prayer meeting with other drivers about this? How long ago?

LANCZ: Last Thursday. We had 50 drivers in one bunch had a prayer meeting up there 20 miles from where this happened. And we thought -- I mean, we know -- we knew the prayer was going to be answered. We knew that. Some time or another. That's the way we believe. I go to the Nazarene Church out here in Fort Wright and, I'll tell you what, I know they'll be calling me. It's been a wonderful -- it's been a wonderful experience but it's a sad experience to see what has been done in the last 21 days. In 21 days to the day that happened. So that's about the end of it as far as I know.

PRICE: OK. Ron Lancz, thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: Correction, his name is Ron Lancz. He is the truck driver who spotted the blue Chevrolet Caprice pulled over at the truck stop where the two suspects were asleep last night. And you just heard the story of how he called that in to authorities and then blocked the exit of that truck stop so the men couldn't get away.

Right now we have some pictures coming in from Baltimore, Maryland. We believe these are going to be pictures of John Muhammad. I'm told we don't have the pictures but as soon as we do have them, we will have them -- when we have them, we'll show them to you.

He is, I'm told, arriving. John Lee Muhammad, arriving at the federal courthouse in Baltimore, where we assume he will be -- the charges will be read against him.

Back now to Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, you were you talking about how strong a case this is likely to be. What about the jurisdiction? I've heard you talking a little bit about this through the afternoon. This is a federal courthouse but clearly a lot of -- you've got Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia. Who's likely to get this case?

TOOBIN: Well, in turf wars, the federal government usually wins. What makes this case unusual in that respect is that the core charges here are murder. And murder is almost always prosecuted at the state level.

What will be interesting is to see if the federal prosecutors can sort of style the case in a way that gets them into federal court. There are various ways of doing that, through conspiracy laws, through continuing criminal enterprise laws, but usually it's a state prosecution.

The fact that they're being arraigned in federal court I actually think is pretty significant, because once you're in one jurisdiction, you tend to stay there. And this may indicate that the three corners of this investigation -- the federal government, Maryland and Virginia -- have made an agreement that the suspects belong in federal court.

What makes this especially interesting is that Maryland and Virginia have very different approaches to the death penalty, which very well may come into play in this case. Maryland, as you know, is in the middle of a moratorium on the death penalty. The governor there concerned about fairness, has said, I'm not going to sign any death warrants.

Virginia has one of the most active death penalty operations in the country. So that very well may play -- may come into play in deciding where these prosecutions would take place.

WOODRUFF: And Jeffrey, what about the fact that one of these two men is a minor, 17 years old? How is that likely to affect what prosecutors are able to do?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, when it comes to the death penalty, the Supreme Court just last week decided it was not going to take a case that says minors can't be executed. So he could be eligible for -- he could be eligible for the death penalty.

Certainly in looking at, you know -- stepping back from the case, prosecutors would be much more likely to make some kind of deal with the 17-year-old than they would with a 42-year-old.

WOODRUFF: Why is that?

TOOBIN: Well, because you tend to think -- and, again, we're just speculating -- but -- that a 17-year-old is less responsible than a 42-year-old. He may argue that he was coerced, he was scared, he was intimidated. Whereas a 42-year-old wouldn't really be able to make much of an argument vis-a-vis a 17-year-old.

So, when you -- prosecutors generally when they arrest someone who is very young and someone who is much older, they generally want to negotiate more with the younger person than with the older one.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much for talking to us. And we know we're going to be -- CNN will be talking to you as this afternoon wears on.

When we come back -- we're going to take a short break now. When we come back, we're going to talk with the reporter who did that interview you saw just a few moments ago.

No, now we're going to go right now to talk to the reporter who talked to the truck driver who spotted the car and passed the tip along to police.

The reporter is bill price. Bill, are you with us now on the phone?

PRICE: Yes, I am with you now. Yes I am.

WOODRUFF: All right. How did you happen to find Ron Lancz?

PRICE: Well, he actually called into a local radio show. He wanted more instructions about exactly who they were looking for. The radio show gave him that information. And from that he was able to call 911 and actually block in the suspect's car for 15 long minutes at a Maryland rest stop waiting for police and other authorities to arrive. He said he wasn't scared just as long as he stayed in that cab he felt protected.

Did he say, Ron -- tell us again. What did he say about how he knew this was the car?

PRICE: He had heard the press conference that was held just before midnight last night and heard the description. And apparently when he was at that Maryland rest stop on Interstate 70, he recognized the New Jersey plates, recognized the type of car and that's where he decided to call 911.

WOODRUFF: Did he see the people inside?

PRICE: Yes, he actually did see the people inside. And, of course, everyone was telling him on the phone don't go to the car. Stay in your truck. So he kind of took his post at the truck and tried to make sure that they didn't have a way to get out of the rest stop until authorities were able to arrive.

Sure, hold on. Let me see if we can talk to him right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ron Lancz, we appreciate you taking out time to talk to us.

LANCZ: I'll tell you, I'm glad to do it.

PRICE: You know, we're also talking to some other folks who are very interested in your story.

Tell us about that 15-minute wait that you had for authorities to come.

LANCZ: I just sit there and waited. That's all I could do. Kept watching my mirrors to see nothing was coming up behind me. Like I said before, I started to get out of the truck and walk around the truck to go to the rest room. I seen what was there -- that car was there and I wasn't about to do that. So I said, I'm not getting out of the truck til I call...

PRICE: Must have been a big relief when you finally saw cruisers arriving on scene at that rest stop.

LANCZ: Yeah. There was a few more things I could say but I'm not going to because they told me not to.

PRICE: Well, OK, one of the things a lot of things people in this neighborhood are calling is calling you a hero. Tell me how you feel about that.

LANCZ: I'm no here. I don't want to be classified as a hero. Just let it go like it is. I did my job. That's what I thought I started doing. In fact, three weeks ago, I would have done the same thing but I'm no hero.

PRICE: What about the reward? You know there had been a sizable reward offered?

LANCZ: I know there's a sizable reward. You know what? It's like I said before, If I had the money, I would probably take it back and give to the people that were shot. I mean, that's the way I feel about it. That's what I would have done with it, at least half of it anyway.

That's the way I feel. I'm going to be over tomorrow at a TV station over in Cincinnati tomorrow radio station. So I guess you'll hear more about it tomorrow.

PRICE: OK, Ron Lancz, thank you very much.

As you see, he is very humble, very modest about it and believe it or not, he is just five runs away from retirement and he says he'll keep driving until he's ready to retire.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Price, thanks very much. You can tell Mr. Lancz that a lot of people are very, very grateful to him.

PRICE: Definitely. A lot of people in this neighborhood feel the same way.

WOODRUFF: No question. All right, Bill. Thank you very much.

When we take a break, we're going to talk to a reporter with the "Washington Post" who has a feel for just how relieved people living in the Washington area are.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Turning our attention to public reaction to this day's events, with me now from the "Washington Post" news room is the paper's metro columnist, Mark Fisher.

Mark, I live in Washington. I can tell you everybody I'm talking to today is enormously relieved. You've been talking to a lot more people. What are they saying?

MARK FISHER, "WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: Well, there is a palpable sense of relief. It's not quite celebration, but just an exhalation that's happening across the metropolitan area. From little kids that are asking, Can we go trick or treating now to high school kids who are wondering if they can salvage a bit of a season, maybe show their athletic prowess and get into a good college to adults who are able to go back out and walk in the streets and go to a sidewalk cafe and that sort of thing.

But it's all tempered by this lingering sense that we have been damaged here and that we'll be looking over our shoulders for a long time to come.

WOODRUFF: How fearful had people truly become, Mark, before today?

FISHER: It had gotten pretty bad. I mean, there were a lot of people who at least were going through the motions of saying, We need to keep our routines going, we need to stand up against this kind of fear.

But in fact all of the institutions in our lives were conspiring to make us even more fearful, whether it was those of us in the news media who kept this drum beat going out of a sense of public duty and public service but also it has that sort of wearing effect on people.

The schools keeping kids inside, the government sending out warnings, businesses pulling back, walking to shops and they were empty. So all told, there was this sense that we were under siege. And people felt it in every daily activity.

WOODRUFF: In retrospect, at least in this early stages of retrospect, Mark, were things generally handled well by the local government and local school leaders?

FISHER: Well, they certainly acted out of abundance of caution, and so if you're looking for people to go ahead and be prudent, you can say they did a good job.

There are those of us and I guess I'm among them, who felt that we needed leaders to take a couple of steps in the other direction and say, We need to go on with our lives, because we live in a threatened environment. And ever since 9/11, I think we're getting used to the fact -- maybe not as accustomed to it yet as we will one day -- to the sense there are going to be increased risks for the foreseeable future and we need to come to terms with how we're going to deal with that and that means how we're going to live relatively normal lives even if the face of some fearful situations.

WOODRUFF: Well, these men apparently are the ones. They're in custody and yet you say we've been damaged. What do you mean by that?

FISHER: Well, I think psychologically. I see it in a lot of children I've been speaking to who I have a great deal of anxiety now.

You see it in parents who really doesn't know whether they can trust the institutions, the schools, the day camps and so on in their lives.

You see it in just this sense of vulnerability that it's not just the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. It's our daily lives out where we shop, out where we walk, to and from the car, the office. It's -- this has really hit home almost in a way beyond what 9/111 did.

WOODRUFF: Well, it's certainly something that people I don't think are going to stop talking about any time soon.

All right, Mark Fisher, with "The Washington Post." We thank you very much.

FISHER: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Good to talk to you. We appreciate it.

WOODRUFF: When we come back, the latest on John Muhammad's military record. We'll have that and much more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Montgomery County, Maryland. You're looking at pictures of an extraordinarily heavily armed motorcade bringing John Allen Muhammad, 41-year-old suspect, to court in Baltimore, where he's being arraigned; separately, John Lee Malvo, also being arraigned, the 17-year-old suspect -- both being arraigned on different charges.

Welcome back to our continuing coverage.

Who are these two suspects who have been picked up in connection with this sniper investigation here in the greater Washington area? Let's pick up a piece of the story in Washington state, all the way across the country.

That's where CNN's James Hattori is standing by to tell us what he has -- James.

JAMES HATTORI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

We are learning a few more details about John Muhammad's personal life, as I'm sure investigators at this point are also trying to delve into what may have -- if in fact he is involved in the D.C. sniping incidents -- what may have prompted his involvement.

We have found, through a restraining order that his second ex- wife filed here in the Pierce County area -- back in 2000, March of 2000, she did obtain that order restraining him from being in her proximity. And she writes in it at one point: "I'm afraid of John. He was a demolitions expert." She went on to say: "John came over and he was going to tell me -- not to let me raise the children the way I wanted to."

At one point, she called 911 after he allegedly attempted to force entry into the house. We're talking about Mildred Williams and her three children. At that point, their ages were 10, 8 and 6. Later on, there was a divorce filing in October and September of the year 2000. And there was a very contentious relationship between Mr. Muhammad and his ex-wife.

At one point, he abducted or took the children. They were later recovered up in Whatcom County, Bellingham, taken into custody by child protective services, then returned to the custody of his ex- wife. Well, maybe she wasn't his ex-wife at that point. But, as this ongoing dispute went on, later on, his wife was hospitalized as a result of trauma and stress that she suffered.

Now, interestingly enough, a neighbor who lived with them back five, six years ago indicated that she felt that John Muhammad was a very likable guy and that he ran a business where he would go over -- go to people's houses and change their oil, take care of their cars, come to them and provide this service. And she said he was very good with the kids.

She did say she could tell he had a temper, however, but that he kept it in check. Now, if in fact investigators are looking at what his background is, if he is in fact involved in the D.C. sniping incidents, she says, "Well, what might send a person over the edge to get involved in something like this?" And she says, "Is it possible?" Well, it certainly took her by surprise, but it's certainly something that investigators will be looking at very closely as we go along -- Wolf.

BLITZER: James Hattori, in Tacoma, Washington, thanks for that report.

Let's head to the deep South now. There is another important part of the story in Montgomery, Alabama. That's where we find CNN's Brian Cabell -- Brian. BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for Montgomery officials, it all started on Sunday. That's when they received a phone call from task force officials saying that those officials wanted to take a look at a possible connection between the sniper attacks and a crime that was committed here in Montgomery, specifically at this store behind me here, ABC Beverages.

It happened on September 21, a Saturday evening. Two women employees locking up the store after closing it down were shot from behind by a gunman. And the police chief says, yes, indeed, it was an ambush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN WILSON, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, ALABAMA, POLICE CHIEF: There is no apparent reason for him to walk up and shoot two defenseless women in the back. If he had asked these women for their money and their purses, they would have given it to him. There was no resistance, no connection between the two women and the suspect, whoever he is, as far as we know. And it's just senseless. So I don't think you could -- I don't think it's unfair to classify it as an ambush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABELL: And today, we got confirmation that fingerprints found at the scene are those of 17-year-old John Malvo. So that is in fact the connection.

However, if you looking for other parallels between what happened here and what has happened up in the Washington, D.C. area, there aren't all that many. For one thing, this was a shooting or shootings at close range, from what we understand. This was a shooting with a small gun, apparently a handgun, as opposed to a rifle. There appeared to be no car that was used in the getaway.

It was actually a chase on foot. The man finally got away. Apparently, it was done alone, although there may have been someone else around. And, apparently, there was the possibility of some robbery, because the police tell us that the man was seen rifling through the purse of one of the victims. So, again, if you're looking for parallels between these cases, the same modus operandi, you don't see it exactly, except that it was an ambush, apparently that there was no connection between the gunman and the victim.

So, Wolf, a lot of questions to be answered here. We have a press coming up in about 75 minutes with the police chief and the mayor. We may get more of those questions answered for us.

BLITZER: And, of course, a different kind of bullet as well that was used in Montgomery, Alabama, as opposed to here in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Brian Cabell, thanks for your good reporting.

Judy, we're standing by here for news. We expect, around 6:00, a news conference, the Montgomery County police chief, Charles Moose, to emerge. We will have a full hour of special coverage on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" at the top of the hour -- but, for now, back to Judy Woodruff in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf. And we will see you at the top of the hour.

Up next, we will explore John Allen Muhammad's military past. He once served at Fort Lewis in Washington state and he was a veteran of the Gulf War.

Our Barbara Starr has reaction from the Pentagon when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: More than a decade ago, John Allen Muhammad was serving in the Persian Gulf War. Today, he is in police custody in connection with the sniper killings.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what have you been able to learn there about this man's background?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Judy.

John Allen Muhammad served with the U.S. Army, leaving the military in the mid-1990s. And, as a U.S. Army sergeant, when we looked at his record earlier today, perhaps the most interesting thing was, he earned the M-16 expert marksmanship badge. This is the Army's highest level of achievement in M-16 handling in combat units and combat-related units.

Both officers and enlisted go through that qualification testing once a year. And what it means is that Muhammad, during this qualification testing, was able to hit 36 of 40 targets which were placed at a range of 50 to 300 meters. It's important to note, however, this is a daylight qualification trial with no scope.

So what Army officials are emphasizing to us here, that, while he earned this badge, the highest level of M-16 rifle handling, this is far, far short and far different than anything that would put him in the category of being sniper-trained. And, indeed, a close look at his military record, including his time at Fort Lewis, Washington, indicates he had no affiliation with any military unit involved in sniper activity or any military unit involved in special operations activity.

A further look at his Army record shows that he earned no really spectacular or special service awards or ribbons of great distinction. He had basic and advanced engineering courses and basic winter operations training. And he did serve in the Army for nine years and in the National Guard, both before and after his Army service.

He was also a veteran of the Persian Gulf War. His actual jobs in the Army were listed as a metal worker, a combat engineer and a water transport specialist. Apparently, he drove a water truck -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Barbara, any more about his record, in terms of, was there an honorable discharge involved or not?

STARR: Well, that's a very interesting question. That is something that the Pentagon will not tell us. They tell us that, due to the law of privacy restrictions, federal privacy laws, they are not allowed to tell us the terms under which he left the military.

We are led to believe he did not have a dishonorable discharge. So either he left on a standard honorable discharge or he left under what is called an administrative discharge. This would be something where he had some potential disciplinary nicks in his record, but nothing that led to the category of judicial punishment or anything like that.

But due to privacy concerns, they say they're simply not able to tell us.

WOODRUFF: All right, Barbara, thank you very much.

Kelly McCann has worldwide experience in military and corporate security fields. He is also CNN's security analyst, Kelly McCann here with me here in Washington.

What does the fact that he had this marksmanship award, M-16 marksmanship training and so forth, what does that tell you about his ability with a rifle?

J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Above average, but not extraordinary. All military members must, as Barbara said, qualify once a year. In the Marine Corps, it goes up to 500 yards. In the Army, they have a different program, 50 to 300 yards.

Everyone has to remember, the service rifle was adopted because it's extremely easy and adaptable to many different styles and types of people, because that's what the service is. So it's not a very difficult rifle to shoot. And so a moderately trained marksman, as we've said, could engage, as we've seen him do -- as he's alleged to do.

WOODRUFF: The Bushmaster, the gun that he had, how is that different or similar to the gun he would have used when he was in the Army?

MCCANN: The M-16 family of weapons initially made by Colt, the Bushmasters are just clones. From a distance, as you look at them, they look exactly the same. They chamber the same cartridge. In effect, it's the exact same rifle, with one exception. The civilian versions are only semiautomatic fire, which means that you press the trigger, you get one bullet only and then you have to press the trigger again.

It's not necessary to even talk about that, because he was using, of course, one round. WOODRUFF: Let me ask you something. He was in the Army, as Barbara said, for nine years. He was discharged in the mid-'90s. How much psychological testing, screening, is done in the Army of people who get this kind of weapon, sophisticated weapons training?

MCCANN: All members that come in must pass the basic screening. They have a basic intelligence test. And they have to go through a process that puts them into the military. The level of psychological screening following that is commensurate with the level of duties and responsibilities that you would be responsible for engaging in.

His jobs, duties and assignments don't particularly require an extraordinary amount of psychological profiling or psychological testing. So it's not -- we shouldn't think that he was tested to an extraordinary degree either mentally.

WOODRUFF: To get this M-16 marksman award, though, Kelly, Barbara was saying he was a metal worker. He was a combat engineer. He drove a water truck. Is this the kind of training with a gun, with a rifle that somebody in those positions would need? Or would he have had to go out of his way to get that kind of training and that kind of expertise?

MCCANN: That's a good question. There's two important things. One is, I think he had a personal interest that went beyond his duties and responsibilities. All combat service support duties require making safe the rear area, in other words being able prevent the enemy from entering into those areas. So you have to have that basic skill, which he did.

But I think that, also, all military members don't have their personal service weapon at home. I think if you polled most service members, they do not. So that's an extraordinary interest, on balance.

WOODRUFF: For him to go out of his way to get this training in an area he didn't need.

MCCANN: And own that firearm. And then, secondly, I think it's unusual...

WOODRUFF: So it's assumed that he owned it himself, the M-16? Is that what you're saying?

MCCANN: No, no, not the service weapon, the Bushmaster.

WOODRUFF: This Bushmaster. OK, the Bushmaster.

MCCANN: And then, secondly, I think it's unusual that a person would do 15 years total time, when you can retire at 20 years and get a pension. But for some reason, it doesn't match up.

Now, I heard Barbara, what she said about his discharge being an administrative discharge. Why would you leave the service after 15 years when you knew, five years from now, you would have a pension? So something doesn't jibe there. He either left because he created a situation by voicing his support for people that we were not particularly impressed with or there was an incident or something like that.

WOODRUFF: And we just don't know. Right now, they're citing privacy concerns.

All right, Kelly McCann, thanks very much.

MCCANN: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And I know we'll be talking to you later on.

Stay with CNN tonight for continuing coverage of the sniper case. At 8:00 Eastern: a "CONNIE CHUNG" special on the sniper suspects. Who are the men allegedly behind the D.C. area killing spree? A revealing look at the lives of John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo at 9:00 Eastern: Hear from John Allen Muhammad's family members on "LARRY KING LIVE." At then at 10:00 on "NEWSNIGHT": how police cracked the case. See what it took to put all the pieces together. Plus: the latest on this day's dramatic events.

Even as the sniper case was playing out, President Bush went on with political business. We'll have a report from the campaign trail next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: President Bush was briefed this morning on the arrests in connection with the sniper investigation. A senior administration source says Mr. Brush was told that law enforcement officials are -- quote -- "optimistic" that they have cracked the case.

Then Mr. Bush left the White House on a political trip to the Carolinas and Alabama.

Our senior White House correspondent, John King, is traveling with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No surprises in an urgent focus by the president on turnout today, delivering Republican voters to the polls in the 2002 midterm elections and a bit of a flashback to campaign 2000, if you will.

Here in Columbia, South Carolina, Mr. Bush enthusiastically campaigning for two congressmen who backed his rival, Senator John McCain, back in the Republican primaries of campaign 2000. Congressman Mark Sanford is the candidate for governor here; Congressman Lindsey Graham the Republican nominee to replace longtime senator, Strom Thurmond, in the Senate.

A bit of that was then, this was now, as Mr. Bush enthusiastically backing both men. He says one way to ensure economic growth in this country is to make his big tax cut permanent. The way to do that, Mr. Bush says, elect a Republican candidate, including Lindsey Graham.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the sake of economic vitality, you need to have a United States senator who will make the tax cuts permanent.

KING: Earlier in the day, a stop in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Elizabeth Dole, a onetime Bush rival in the campaign 2000 primaries, is the Republican nominee for the Senate seat now held by longtime Republican Senator Jesse Helms.

Mrs. Dole is running against the former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. That race has tightened up dramatically in recent days, Mr. Bush urging the Republicans on hand not only to vote themselves, but to bother their neighbors, even, he said, reach out and try to recruit some Democrats.

BUSH: Do you your duty. Convince your neighbors to do their duty. And, by the way, make sure you not only talk to Republicans, but talk to some Democrats, because some of these Democrats understand the difference between good government and bad government.

KING: Before leaving Washington, the president, at his morning FBI briefing, was given an update on the dramatic overnight developments in the sniper investigation. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says Mr. Bush was given just the facts of the investigation, no characterization as to what those facts may or may not mean -- but another senior administration official telling CNN that those facts made it clear to the president that law enforcement officials believe they have the breakthrough have been so desperately seeking.

John King, CNN, with the president in Columbia, South Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And we'll have more on the campaigns tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS. I'll be in New Hampshire, focusing on the Senate race there.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: One of the two suspects in the sniper murders is about to go before a federal judge at the U.S. courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland.

Our Jason Carroll is there -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, well, Thomas DiBiagio, the U.S. attorney for the district of Maryland, just released a statement saying that John Muhammad will be taking part of an initial court appearance.

That is going to be held at 5:45 p.m. Eastern time. He arrived at about 4:00, a little after 4:00, under very heavy security here in Baltimore, arriving here at the U.S. courthouse. Again, he is going to be held on an out-of-state warrant on gun charges. You can see that his arrival there, once again, under very heavy security here at the U.S. courthouse in Baltimore.

Also arriving earlier today: John Malvo, that 17-year-old, also arriving under heavy security. Because he is a minor, his court appearance was done under closed doors. It will not be made public whatsoever. But we are being told that his initial court appearance was issued on a warrant issued in Greenbelt, Maryland, related to charges relating to the sniper shootings.

So, once again, John Muhammad will be facing his first court appearance, Judy. That is scheduled to happen at 5:45, just a short while from now -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jason, that's just about 50 minutes from now.

And, of course, CNN will be having continuous live coverage until then.

Thank you, Jason.

That's it for our coverage for this hour. For INSIDE POLITICS, I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

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