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Montgomery Press Conference on Sniper

Aired November 1, 2002 - 14:00   ET


BOBBY BRIGHT, MAYOR OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY, ALABAMA: ... let you know about it as quickly as we possibly could. That's what we're doing here today.

With me, I have today Leura Canary. She's the U.S. attorney Middle District of Alabama. Leura is standing behind me here. We have Mr. Tim Munson, special agent in charge of Mobile division, field division of the FBI. He is directly behind me here. And then we also have Mr. Jim Cavanaugh. He's the special agent in charge of the Nashville field division of the ATF. And that's Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division. And he's over -- Montgomery is in his division.

And, of course, everybody knows who I have here to the right. We have the chief of police here in Montgomery, Alabama.

And I want to welcome you and thank you for being here and basically turn it over to the chief for a short presentation to you. And then we will field some questions. Preferably, the questions will be directed to the chief or to Mr. Jim Cavanaugh.

Chief Wilson.


Again, I hate to have to bring you back out here again. But we had some new revelations. Most of you are aware by now that it has been concluded that the same Bushmaster rifle that was used in the Washington, D.C. and other areas is now going to be the one that is going to used in the killing of Mrs. Claudine Parker.

Why the discrepancy or why did I give you some information the first time and now we have to come back and re-explain it? Perfectly legitimate answers, and I'm going to walk you through that briefly, so that you'll understand how we got to this point.

The information I gave to you was based on the forensic sciences here, with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, and information that we collected from ATF when they took our bullet fragments to Washington last Monday. A .22-caliber magnum bullet and a .223 have tremendously similar similarities. They're a lot alike. You're talking about paper-thin differences. And what we were dealing with was very microscopic fragments.

Also, what has to fit into the equation are the statements of the witnesses. That's very important. Nobody has now, nor did anybody then indicate that they saw a long gun. We have two officers that clearly indicate in separately taken, independent statements that night that they observed the flash of a handgun.

So we are still convinced then and we're convinced now that a handgun plays a role in some way. We're not going to get into theories. I don't think that's appropriate, because they may change as well. We don't want to get into speculation. But we do want to know that all of our options are open.

If you'll remember, you'll think back with me on our very first press briefing, I cautioned everybody, including the police officers, not to draw foregone conclusions, because they're subject to change. I also told you that you probably only knew of only 50 percent of the evidence that we had. And that is still the case today.

We still have evidence at the FBI office being analyzed. We still want to know what role the handgun may or may not have played. We know one was there on scene. There's absolutely no question about that, in my mind. The officers gave very concise, clear statements.

But we also know now that the rifle was used. So we have to go back and reevaluate the whole crime scene and see what we may have missed. Keeping in mind also here that there's one key investigative tool that we don't have access to. In most cases, particularly when you have suspects, the best source of information you can have is the suspects themselves. And we to this date have not had the opportunity to talk to any of the suspects.

So it keeps us at a tremendous disadvantage to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together without the biggest piece being there. We will do it. I'm confident all of this will come together and be perfectly explainable. There's one thing I will not be a part of at any time, now or in the future. And that is forcing a case. If the evidence is not there, we're not going to say it's there.

If the evidence is correct and we can prove that, we intend to prove it. We've gone through a whole lot of catch us as you can with this case. Catch us as you can, that's been the name of the game. Now it's prove it if you can. And we're going to do that. We're going to put a rock-solid case together.

Does this hurt our case? Not in any way. None whatsoever. In fact, it makes it stronger, because now we have one more piece of evidence that put the people at the scene, that put the suspects at the scene. We've got the same rifle that they were captured with during the search warrant.

So I'm confident that all the pieces will come together. We will figure it out. We just now have to factor the rifle into the equation. So that's where we're at with that. And I will tell you one last piece of information I think is important. This story continues to be an unfolding nightmare. And we have not seen the last chapter in this story at all.

About two or three hours after I received the Wednesday call from Mr. Cavanaugh here behind me from ATF, and our folks telling us that now the rifle was now involved, we found a handgun. So we do have in our possession a handgun that fits the make, model and general description and caliber of the gun we were initially looking for.

Please don't ask me to go into a lot details about exactly what kind it was or where it was or that kind of thing. I will tell you that it was originated at a Oklahoma address. Then it was stolen at a gun show in Texas. Now, how it ended up here is going to be another big key piece of this puzzle. So that's what we're looking at as well.

Whether this gun in fact plays a role in this, we don't know. Whether it's the gun the officer saw, I will tell you it was found in a location along the track of where Muhammad was being pursued. So there's some awful big coincidences here.

Why wasn't it found the first time? I'll go ahead and answer that for you. It's a very small weapon. It was in some abandoned- type apartment area. There were some leaves. It was covered with the leaves in that area. A citizen found it hours, like I said, after I got the call saying that the rifle was involved. So I have no heartburn with that. I think our officers did a good job. There's a perfectly good explanation why it wasn't found the first time. They looked, but it was very easy to miss, I can promise you that.

I'm confident we'll figure it out. I'm OK with this. I just wanted to make sure we were up front with you and you had all the information we had.

So, before you ask questions, if you don't mind, I am going to turn it over to Mr. Jim Cavanaugh and let him make a few statements. And he can talk more about ATF's role.


JAMES CAVANAUGH, ATF: Thank you, Chief.

I'm Jim Cavanaugh from the national field division of the ATF.

I'd like to just start out first by saying that, certainly, our heart goes out to all the victims. And every time law enforcement makes a public statement, I want the chief and all the law enforcement want the victims to know how much we're concerned about them. They're always in our minds and they're always with us.

I spent the last 3 1/2 weeks at the task force in Montgomery for ATF. And the chief and I were on the phone when the Montgomery connection came through. So we'd been working on the Alabama connection as everything was unfolding. Unfortunately, I get to see this case from both ends, from the task force up there, where I was assigned as the deputy incident commander, back to Alabama.

I want to just talk briefly about some ballistics information that the chief talked about, the firearms examination information. The finding of the Bushmaster .223 rifle was such a significant event. And that's why we were able to tie that to the Montgomery shooting. Prior to that, the Alabama Department of Forensic Science did a good job. They looked at it. They made assessments of the bullet, based on the police officers' statements.

As the chief said, they thought it probably could be fired from a handgun. And there is, in fact, a couple of handguns that do fire a .22 magnum that make the same unique markings on the bullet. In other words, they make six grooves in a right twist. And so that was a pretty good assumption of the forensic examiners, that this might be fired from a handgun.

When that was brought to the ATF laboratory, they saw that also. They said, yes, this could be. But when they looked at it against the bullet fragments of all the known murders in Maryland and Virginia, they could not match those two. In other words, they could not match Montgomery's fragment with the other fragments, because there wasn't enough.

When the Bushmaster rifle was recovered, test fires were made. And then they have the whole circumference of the copper jacket that they can look at the lands and grooves. It's much more examination for the examiners. And when they looked at that at the ATF laboratory, they said -- and you remember the evening when they matched all the murders, the 11 murder -- they said: "This looks good for us, but we don't want to do Alabama's examination. Let's fly those two examiners from Alabama up to Washington."

And that's what we did. And they actually looked at it, the Alabama examiners, and they said, yes, that is a match. So that's how we did it. It's sort of painstaking science. And, in this case, I think the journalists are -- they're almost thinking along with us, every step we take. You have our phrases. You have our interactions. You sort of know what we're thinking. And the information evolves.

So that's a significant event for the Montgomery case. The handgun the chief described as finding a couple of days ago, we did an urgent trace on that gun. As the chief said, it went to Oklahoma. Then Oklahoma sold it to another man. We know it was reported stolen at a gun show in El Paso, Texas, on the 20th of July.

So we've run it down that far. And the chief's detectives and agents will do whatever else we can to see how it's related, whether it is or not. Let's see if there's anything else I left out I wanted to tell you. I think that's pretty much all I wanted to say.

I think we've had -- Montgomery police have done an excellent job. They've been forthright. They've been on top of their case from the beginning. And, obviously, you know it was a key to solving the cases in Washington, was what happened in Montgomery.

Thank you.

WILSON: Jim, you might want to talk about the importance of letting them know about the handgun that we've -- the importance of getting it out there, just in case it might be involved.

CAVANAUGH: Right, of course, anything about the handgun that was found -- and the chief can describe the area where it was found -- if anybody has any information about that, whether it's in Oklahoma or El Paso or in Montgomery, they should call, call law enforcement, let us know. They can call Montgomery police. They can call ATF. They can call the FBI. They can call any of us and we'll get it to the right place. But if they have information like that, we'd certainly like to know.

WILSON: And I asked Mr. Cavanaugh, who is my longtime friend that I referred to you earlier in our briefings about my contact at ATF, I asked him a very hard question.

I said: "OK, Jim, let's shoot straight here now. I'm going to get asked about why we had results that said one thing one day and another set of results the next." His answer was very clear and concise. And it's correct. They didn't have the rifle at that time. So they didn't have the rifle to compare it to. So that makes perfect sense to me. And that's acceptable to me. And I don't have a problem with it.

I'm going to divulge any change to you. And I'm going to caution you again, don't be speculating. Let's not draw a lot of conclusions. This whole thing could change again before it's all said and done.

So, having said that, Larry, do you have anything you'd like to add?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: You've been listening to Police Chief John Wilson. He is the chief of police for Montgomery, Alabama, and also Jim Cavanaugh from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

It might have been a little bit difficult to understand exactly what was being said here. But, essentially, it is this. As you know, there is a murder. And that is the death of Claudine Parker in Montgomery, Alabama, that preceded the D.C. sniper shootings.

What they have done is apparently been able to now directly link that rifle, which was used in the D.C. area -- that's the Bushmaster .223 -- with the actual shooting that took place I believe inside of a liquor store there, in which Mrs. Parker was killed.

Initially, authorities thought that this murder might have been carried out with a handgun, because the bullet that comes from the .223 can look very similar initially to a .22-caliber bullet. In fact, they're very, very similar, except the .223 has a lot more gunpowder behind it, a magnum-type force.

They were now able to ascertain, as the result of having the weapon in their custody, that, yes, this rifle -- now they believe the two suspects, John Muhammad, John Malvo had a role in this woman's death in Alabama. That's a significant conclusion.

We'll have more coming up.


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