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Two People Arrested in Sniper Case in Maryland

Aired October 24, 2002 - 06:40   ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone.
We want to bring you up to speed now on the latest developments in the serial sniper case, at least two men now in custody this morning in connection with this investigation. The men were apparently found sleeping inside a car at an interstate highway rest stop there and CNN has confirmed those individuals are John Allen Muhammad and his 17-year-old stepson, John Lee Malvo. You've seen their photographs that have been on the television since last night. They are wanted as a witness in the sniper case.

Meanwhile, authorities in Tacoma, Washington, yesterday, searched the backyard of a duplex where it is believed that the 42-year-old Muhammad once lived. Authorities hauled away a tree stump that they believe may have been used for target practice.

Also, yesterday, a federal authority searching the property of this paramilitary training camp in Marion, Alabama, Ground Zero U.S.A., specializing in special weapons training.

Also, sources telling CNN that authorities on Monday missed the man believed to be the sniper by a matter of minutes at an Exxon gas station in Richmond, Virginia.

Well, as you may have seen this last hour, Maryland State Police held a news conference on -- in the middle -- on the middle of the night arrests of the two men at the Maryland rest stop. Let's hear what they had to say.


MAJ. GREG SHIPLEY, MARYLAND STATE POLICE: Shortly after 3:30 this morning, the tactical response team arrested two individuals from that vehicle who were sleeping in the vehicle. They were taken into custody without incident. They are described as African-American males, one approximately 20, one approximately 40. That's the only description we have at this point.


CALLAWAY: And now we're going to take you to CNN's Bob Franken who is across the street from the rest stop where those two individuals were apprehended.

Bob, what's the latest from there?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well you can see the headlights in back of me, Catherine, those are the headlights of a state trooper blocking the exit of the -- of the rest stop where the arrests were made. We also were able to show that at the entrance into that rest stop there was a big blockade of police have closed it down for obvious reasons. The car in which the arrests were made is still there.

The officials are waiting for some legalities to be taken care of and they're waiting for the first light of day so they can begin a very thorough search of the automobile looking for weapons, looking for ammunition, fingerprints, any DNA samples, looking for any evidence that can contribute to their solving the Washington area sniper case. Of course 10 people have lost their lives in sniper shootings and 3 have been wounded in an area that ranges from north of Washington about 15 miles to south by about 80 miles.

And this, of course, has been a day and night of fast moving events. All of this happened about 1:00 in the morning Eastern Time at a rest stop which is about 50 miles north of Washington. And just to give you some idea, about 40 miles south of the Pennsylvania state line. A motorist, after hearing broadcast reports that police were looking for this vehicle, called state police when he spotted it with two people apparently sleeping at that rest stop.

The state police sent some troopers. They called in and arranged for a specially trained tactical unit, the ones who have body armor and the high caliber weapons. It took them quite a while to assemble. This is something that they do very methodically. And about two hours after the first call, they swooped down on the car. Police reported that there was no resistance. The two were taken out of the car. They were taken to Montgomery County, which is the center of the investigation. That's where the large portion of the shootings have occurred, including the most recent one which happened night before last, but -- the morning before last, by the way. It happened on Monday morning.

But in any case, the arrests have been made. They've been taken away. And police are hoping that at this location far out of Washington, D.C. they may have gotten the break which will lead to solving this Washington sniper case which has kept Washington in such a state of siege -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: All right, thank you. That's CNN's Bob Franken.

These two individuals, this John Allen Muhammad and his 17-year- old stepson, John Lee Malvo, considered so-called material witnesses in this sniper case.

Let's talk to our legal analyst Kendall Coffey who is up early in Miami with us to talk about it.

And first, Kendall, how would you describe what a material witness is?

KENDALL COFFEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Catherine, this is -- this is a concept that had sort of rested quietly for years, hadn't been used very much by the authorities. The most spectacular event was Terry McNichols who was the accomplice of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.

After September 11, it became a major tool for authorities when there was a high degree of suspicion but perhaps not enough to actually charge someone with a substantive criminal offence. If someone is arrested as a material witness, they can be held, they can be jailed even without bail. So it's a very valuable tool and one that can be the first phase, in effect, the precursor or prelude before the actual charges are brought for a crime such as murder.

CALLAWAY: Kendall, that's interesting. It gives them somewhat special authority in the case. Can they hold them indefinitely?

COFFEY: They've been able to hold a number of suspects for weeks, even months. It's evoked a little bit of controversy because essentially the system wants to know pretty quickly are you going to charge someone with the actual crime or not. But in -- but in this case, if they've got a fair amount of information but not quite enough, they're in the process, perhaps as we speak, of trying to develop charging decisions, then the material witness arrest does work to hold suspects for days, weeks, even months if necessary.

CALLAWAY: Kendall, as Patty Davis pointed out just a short while ago, police authorities in this are absolutely going by the book, still waiting on that search warrant to search that vehicle, that Chevrolet Caprice that they've been looking for. They want to make sure that there is absolutely no mistake made in this.

COFFEY: Absolutely right, Catherine, that is so important because up until some hours ago, this may have been essentially a race against time to try to get the perpetrators before they struck again. But if they think they've got the two who may have been involved in it, now they've got to be very careful. This isn't a race against time as much as it's a need to make sure they have got a prosecution that they know will be put under a microscope by defense council if in fact this case proceeds with charges and ultimately with a trial. So now there is less sense of every minute they have to move as quickly as possible, now they've got to make sure they don't make any mistakes if indeed these two turn out to be the criminals that have terrorized a community and a nation.

CALLAWAY: Or connected in some way,...

COFFEY: Yes, exactly.

CALLAWAY: ... to say the least.

All right, Kendall. Kendall Coffey, thank you for getting up with us this morning.


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