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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Sniper Case: Challenge of Figuring Who Should Get Reward Money

Aired October 31, 2002 - 08:03   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Back to the sniper investigation. Police say they couldn't have solved the sniper case without the help of people calling their tip line and at the height of the investigation, police were fielding about 400 calls an hour. Some of those callers may have been induced to phone by the half million dollar reward.
And we're going to take a look now at the challenge of figuring out who should get the money.

Patty Davis explores that right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the serial sniper suspects behind bars, investigators are sifting through thousands of tips to build their cases and ultimately help decide who deserves the sizable cash reward.

DOUGLAS DUNCAN, MONTGOMERY COUNTY EXECUTIVE: It's $500,000 for the reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of people in this case.

DAVIS: Police say they're nowhere near a decision, but it's likely a number of people will split the money. There's Ron Lantz, the truck driver who spotted the suspects' Chevy Caprice at a Maryland rest stop.

RON LANTZ: If I had the money, I'd probably take it back and give it to the people that were shot. I mean that's the way I feel about it. And that's what I would have done with it, at least half of it, anyway.

DAVIS: But Lantz may be out of the running. Maryland state police say another man, Whitney Donahue (ph), spotted the car first and called 911. And then there's William Sullivan, a Virginia priest who told police an agitated man called him on October 18, talking about an Alabama killing. Another man in Tacoma, Washington told police Muhammad and Malvo used a rifle for target practice in their backyard.

All of these tips helped lead police to the suspects.

Reward programs work, with success rates over 50 percent. But the larger the reward and the higher the public profile, the greater the problems. JOHN ROPER, CRIME STOPPERS USA: It generates large calls. It's manpower intensive because they have to follow every lead to its finalities.

DAVIS: Police say they wouldn't have solved the case without help from tipsters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAVIS: Police say one thing is for sure, even though the suspects helped incriminate themselves in phone calls to the sniper tip line, they will definitely not be cashing in -- Paula.

ZAHN: So how do they work around all this controversy? What happens next?

DAVIS: In terms of who gets that money, they've got to sift through the tips, who gave them the best leads. We're told that it will definitely be more than one person in this case, not necessarily who called in first, who called in second. It's going to be who brave them the best information for the arrest and indictment of the individuals.

So, and it's up to police and the sniper task force. So they have a lot of leeway in deciding who gets the money and who doesn't get the money. And, on top of all that, these people will have to pay taxes. So even if you split five ways, you get $100,000, you're still going to have to pay your 30 percent federal tax -- Paula.

ZAHN: Sure. But they're still a lot further ahead than they would have been if they hadn't been good citizens to make those calls.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

ZAHN: I guess I'm just curious about in the end, when you're talking about this call that's going to be made, it's, in fact, a very subjective call, isn't it?

DAVIS: It is a very subjective call and it's totally the call of the police and the Montgomery County investigators lived in this investigation. It's subjective, absolutely. And it's up to them. But the bottom line is the money is going to go out. It's being held safely in a bank account right now. But it will be paid out. It may be quite a while, though.

ZAHN: And, Patty, I know we talked about this a little yesterday, just any new information about what went on during the initial interrogations of both of these suspects?

DAVIS: Well, we do know, in fact, sources told us that John Muhammad was giving some information. He was talking a bit. But we're told by sources in this case that it was nothing really relevant. And we had sources telling us yesterday, in fact, that they vehemently deny, in fact, that Maryland state's attorney or U.S. attorney, in fact, vehemently denied that the interrogation of Muhammad was cut off short, as some of the investigators are claiming. In fact, they're saying that they, apparently Muhammad was requesting an attorney. So in that case, they had to cut the interrogation short and sent him to court -- Paula.

ZAHN: Boy, it gets more interesting every day.

Thanks so much, Patty.

Appreciate it.

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