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CNN LIVE AT DAYBREAK

Sniper Trial in Virginia Beach, Virginia Opens

Aired October 20, 2003 - 05:05   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It's been nearly a year since John Allen Muhammad was arrested in the D.C. sniper case. And this morning his trial in Virginia Beach, Virginia opens with statements from prosecution and defense attorneys.
CNN's Jeanne Meserve has more on the case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At this gas station on October 9, 2002, Dean Meyers was filling his tank. J.R. Raymaker (ph) was working the cash register.

J.R. RAYMAKER: We were standing right here and we heard like pooh, like a shot or something.

MESERVE: Meyers lay dead by the pump, the seventh killed by the Washington sniper. No one saw John Muhammad at this shooting scene or any other in the Washington area. He has never confessed to any of the murders.

Prosecutors say the case is circumstantial. That does not mean it's weak.

TODD SANDERS, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Fingerprints, hair samples, DNA, ballistics evidence, that evidence is clear cut. It stays the same from the time the crime was committed until the trial starts.

MESERVE: The strongest piece of evidence in this case, the Bushmaster rifle, found with Muhammad and Malvo at the time of their arrest and linked through ballistics testing like this with Meyers' murder and other D.C. sniper slayings. The Chevy Caprice in which they were found had a sniper perch and firing port in the trunk. Inside, a wealth of other evidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The window broke and shots came in.

MESERVE: A laptop stolen from an earlier shooting victim. On it, law enforcement sources say maps and notations about past and apparently planned shootings. Some locations marked with a skull and crossbones and smiley faces. Also in the Caprice, a global positioning device, walkie-talkies and a tape recorder, all alleged to have been used in the crimes.

HANK ASBILL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it's also highly incriminating. The real question is is who is it incriminating of, both of the people in the car, only Muhammad, only Malvo or some third or fourth persons that may have been in the car.

MESERVE: There is more. At the restaurant across the street from the Meyers shooting, investigators found a map with Muhammad and Malvo's fingerprints on it. And the police chief of Montgomery, Alabama says witnesses can place both Malvo and Muhammad at a shooting there before the Washington spree.

(on camera): Defense attorneys watching the case say if they were representing Muhammad, they would try to undermine the credibility of the forensic evidence, exploit contradictions in the investigation and create opportunities for appeal. They would also underline emphatically that no one saw John Muhammad commit the crimes.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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