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Inside the Minds of the DC Snipers
Aired October 31, 2009 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: They were brazen crimes that kept millions of Americans on edge for weeks - two calculating killers stalking and killing innocent people. They were called the DC Snipers.
I'm Soledad O'Brien.
October of 2007, CNN investigated who they were and why they did it. It was a dark journey inside the minds of the DC Snipers.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
O'BRIEN (voice-over): October 3rd, 2002 was a sun-splashed morning in the Washington, DC area. Hundreds of thousands were heading for work - people like James "Sonny" Buchanan, a landscaper who was doing a job mowing a tiny patch of grass behind an automobile dealership. It was 7:42 AM.
(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Montgomery County.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma'am. I need police and an ambulance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. What's the problem?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody's been shot down on our back lot. He's down on the ground. We got a crowd of people down here. Oh, a lawn mower blew up on this guy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's - he's bleeding real bad.
(END AUDIO TAPE)
O'BRIEN: The caller, a parts manager at the dealership, was right the first time. Sonny Buchanan's lawn mower had not broken, he had been shot in the back with a high-powered rifle. His murder was the beginning of a reign of terror that would last nearly a month and result in 10 more vicious killings.
Less than half an hour after Sonny Buchanan was slain, a second death - a part-time cab driver named Premkumar Walekar, shot as he was pumping gas. Twenty-five minutes later, a 34-year-old babysitter, Sarah Ramos, killed while reading a book on a bus stop bench - 8:37 AM. In just an hour, three people murdered. Police and paramedics were stunned.
DREW TRACY, ASSISTANT CHIEF OF POLICE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND: I think in the beginning it was chaos. We didn't know where to go.
JOSEPH DINGLE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY EMT: The EMS people rendering aid didn't know if we was going to be targeted, but it was scary. It was scary.
O'BRIEN: And this was only the beginning. About an hour later, a young woman, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, shot and killed at a gas station.
DINGLE: Once we pulled on scene, there was a lady there laying on the sidewalk there at the gas station. It appeared that she had been vacuuming her car out at the time. So we checked her out and noticed that she wasn't breathing.
DEIDRE I. WALKER, ASSISTANT CHIEF OF POLICE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND: It was just stunning, and it was - not just in how different it was from anything, any kind of template or any kind of barometer but how different it was in the level of violence, the instantly apparent randomness of the victim selection. All of that adds up to confusion and deep, deep concern.
O'BRIEN: Throughout the month, the terror continued. A 13-year-old boy, Iran Brown, shot and wounded as he arrives at his suburban Maryland school. Another man, 53-year-old Harold Meyers, slain as he, too, is pumping gas. And across the region where millions lived, every life, it seemed, was altered, even for people like April Carroll...
APRIL CARROLL, ATF AGENT: Nothing was going on as normal.
O'BRIEN: An ATF agent trying to catch whoever was responsible.
CARROLL: People were ducking at the gas stations. They would not stand outside. Some of the gas stations were putting up drop curtains to protect their patrons. I had one boy laying out on the floorboard because I had to get gas that day. I tried not to do it with kids.
O'BRIEN: Quickly, the media gave the killer - or the killers - a name: the DC Sniper. But whose finger was on the trigger?
Some of the answers would be found in a teenager who was born here, far from the nation's capital, a boy named Lee Malvo who grew up on the street, in neighborhoods like this on the island of Jamaica that haven't changed for generations - poor, violent, more often than not, always on the edge.
O'BRIEN (on camera): This is a part of Jamaica most tourists will never see. It's a neighborhood of the capital city of Kingston called Waltham Park and it's where Lee Boyd Malvo was born. His father was a construction worker back then, in fact, he still is now. And he finds it almost impossible to believe that his favorite son is one of America's most notorious killers. Is it hard for you to even say his name?
LESLIE MALVO, LEE BOYD MALVO'S FATHER: Very rough. It's not easy when you have a child you love so much and this thing happens to him.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Leslie Malvo remembers the good times with his son, Lee; stops for ice cream on these streets, for instance, but he is fully aware that he bears at least some responsibility for what took place later on.
L. MALVO: I cry for myself (ph).
O'BRIEN (on camera): Sometimes, for parents - and I know you're close to tears again.
L. MALVO: Yes, yes. Let's see. Let the tears run. The tears move free and up the mind.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Free up his mind from the reality that he had done nothing to prevent Lee's mother, Una James, from sweeping in and taking his boy away, done nothing to prevent a pattern that would occur time and time again, over the coming years - a pattern of what an expert says was neglect and violence by Lee's own mother.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Did he feel like he had a mother who loved him? Did he did feel like his childhood was...
CARMITA ALBARUS LINDO, MALVO'S SOCIAL WORKER: No.
O'BRIEN: ... was nurturing and calm and...?
LINDO: No, no, no...
O'BRIEN: Nothing like that?
LINDO: Nothing like that. He just - he felt that - the degree to which she beat him, he felt that she hated him.
O'BRIEN: You get back (ph) to Jamaica fairly often?
O'BRIEN (voice over): Carmita Albarus Lindo is a Jamaican-born social worker who spent hundreds of hours interviewing and counseling Malvo since his capture. This is her first network television interview. It didn't take long, she says, before a new and deadly influence appeared in Lee Malvo's life.
O'BRIEN (on camera): John Muhammad literally stepped into the role of father - literally.
LINDO: He did. Absolutely. Took him shopping for his birthday. He said, now, you are like an older brother to my children. You are their bigger brother. You have to protect them.
O'BRIEN (voice over): When we come back...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD, D.C. SNIPER: Hello, everyone. I guess you all thought I was finished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: The man who would be that father - John Allen Muhammad.
O'BRIEN: Lee Boyd Malvo spent most of his formative years here, in this remote, nearly inaccessible village called Endeavor, high in the Jamaican mountains. His mother had left him at age nine for a job on another island, so he was raised by his mother's sister, Jean Morris, a strict disciplinarian.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Give me a good picture of who - who he was and who he - as a child.
JEAN MORRIS, MALVO'S AUNT: If Lee was a child who was rude and disobedient and would not listen and break rules and regulations, I would never sit in this chair and talk to you. I would never.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Lee Malvo attended this school in Brownstown, Jamaica. He was not just a good student, he was a gifted one. Before long, however, his mother entered his life once again, with a new destination in mind: the faraway island of Antigua, part of what Carmita Albarus Lindo says was a life-long pattern of abuse, abandonment, and reconciliation.
LINDO: She said had some place for him, that she had a business for him. The business happened to be an ice box that she was selling drinks and fruits out of, and the place that she had happened to be a shack. He was there, went up in July, and by January of the following year, she left. She left him in the shack.
O'BRIEN (on camera): By himself?
LINDO: By himself.
O'BRIEN: At 14 years old?
LINDO: At 14 years old.
O'BRIEN: I met Una James in Jamaica. At first she said she wanted to issue a statement of sympathy for sniper victims, but she never did. Then she refused to be photographed or discuss her relationship with her son, Lee.
The one thing we do know is that after Una James abandoned Lee in Antigua, he met the man who would convince him and train him to become a killer: John Allen Muhammad.
You thought he'd kill you?
MILDRED MUHAMMAD, JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD'S EX-WIFE: No. I knew. I saw the look in his eye. O'BRIEN (voice-over): Mildred Muhammad is talking for the first time on network television about her ex-husband, a former Army combat engineer. Over the years, she says, John Muhammad grew increasingly distant and demanding, and one day snatched her three children from their Tacoma, Washington home and fled to Antigua, without warning, in the middle of the night.
M. MUHAMMAD: He was supposed to bring them back from shopping at K- Mart. My son later told me that they got on a plane that night and went to Antigua. And that was the last time I saw my children for 18 months.
O'BRIEN: John Muhammad, Jr. has never before spoken publicly about his father, or about the time he and his two sisters lived on Antigua with Lee Boyd Malvo.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Was he part of the family? Did your - did your father treat him like he was a son or a brother to you?
JOHN MUHAMMED, JR., JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMED'S SON: My dad was real big on family, and so when he would leave he would tell me or Lee to - to watch out for the girls (INAUDIBLE) were different people, so we wasn't sure who we could trust or get close to.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): John Muhammad and Lee Malvo formed a bond here at the home of Jerome and Leonie Martin, but even then, there was a lie.
JEROME MARTIN, JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD'S ACQUAINTANCE: They used to come around here with all the kids and then one day he left from his - an American accent and he was the Jamaican accent, when my wife said, "Wait, you're not an American. You're Jamaican, right?" Then he says his mother is Jamaican and then - so my wife said "I don't think you're John's son because you have a Jamaican accent."
O'BRIEN: What the Martins didn't know - what no one knew - was that John Allen Muhammad was by now in the business of making and selling fraudulent passports. One of his customers? Una James, Lee Malvo's mother, who used one to get into the United States.
J. MUHAMMED, JR.: My dad had a fake passport business to get into America. He would have fake birth certificates. And he helped her to come to the States, but he couldn't get Lee in as soon as he had his mom in, so Lee just stayed with us.
O'BRIEN: Muhammad often had to leave his kids, and who took charge of his three young children then?
LINDO: Immediately, Lee dropped out of school, and his role now was to be big brother, to save these children. So that's really when the relationship, really, even became tighter.
O'BRIEN (on camera): When you started interviewing Lee, how did he describe John Muhammad?
LINDO: "My dad. This was my dad." O'BRIEN (voice over): A father figure, who would soon gather his children and flee Antigua, leaving Lee Malvo behind with deadly lessons to be learned from an ancient manual of war.
LINDO: Muhammad would instruct him what sections that he should read. He should say, this is who I am. This is what I will become, and that's how he went to sleep every single night.
O'BRIEN: Just ahead, John Allen Muhammad turns his surrogate son into a killing machine.
LEMON: Hello everyone. I'm Don Lemon, live at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Here are your headlines.
An arrest today in the gruesome discovery of six corpses in and around a home in Ohio. All six decomposing bodies are women and they appear to have been strangled. The suspect, 50-year-old Anthony Sowell is also currently a suspect in a sexual assault and he has been convicted of rape once before. A coroner tells CNN that the bodies could have been there for months, if not years.
Slick roads a likely factor in a bus accident this morning just south of Atlanta. A charter bus carrying 42 Morehouse College students, including band members, skidded off Interstate 75 and overturned. Thirteen people were taken to hospitals, but police say their injuries weren't life threatening. The bus was on its way to a football game. The driver told police he lost control while trying to avoid another vehicle that was moving in his lane - into his lane. It was raining at the time of that crash.
There were lots of ghosts and ghouls and goblins as well at the White House this evening. The president and the First Lady welcomed the children of military families and schoolchildren from across the Washington area. There were plenty of colorful costumes worn by adults and children, of course. They enjoyed live music and lots of treats, but no real tricks to report.
I'm Don Lemon. CNN PRESENTS: INSIDE THE MINDS OF THE DC SNIPERS, it continues right now.
O'BRIEN (voice over): Throughout the month of October 2002, the shootings continue with ferocity around the nation's capital. An FBI intelligence analyst, Linda Franklin, is slain as she walks out of a Home Depot near Falls Church, Virginia. She would be victim number eight.
Five days later, a Florida man, Jeffrey Hopper, is shot and badly wounded in a steakhouse parking lot near Ashland, Virginia. Investigators are overwhelmed with phone calls.
MICHAEL BOUCHARD, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO AND FIREARMS: We had over 100,000 tips that came in on this case in three weeks, and 16,000 of those were deemed to be viable.
O'BRIEN: But authorities still had no clue as to who was behind the killing spree.
One year earlier, in the fall of 2001, just after the attacks of 9/11, a new student enrolled at Bellingham, Washington High School. Principal Steve Clark still has a vivid recollection of Lee Boyd Malvo.
STEVE CLARK, PRINCIPAL, BELLINGHAM HIGH SCHOOL: He entered difficult classes, honors and advanced placement level classes. I was proud of how he conducted himself here and how hard he worked here, and - and believed that he had a great future had he continued on that path.
O'BRIEN: Lee Malvo was living here in this Bellingham homeless shelter called the Lighthouse Mission. John Allen Muhammad was living there as well. They had arrived within weeks of each other.
REV. AL ARCHER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LIGHTHOUSE MISSION: I came to love these guys.
O'BRIEN: Reverend Al Archer ran the Lighthouse Mission. John Muhammad arrived first with his three children. Authorities later would learn that he had fled the Caribbean island of Antigua because his fake passport business had collapsed.
ARCHER: John was one of the warmest individuals I ever met, but eventually I became suspicious of him.
O'BRIEN: Suspicious because Muhammad was traveling a great deal - to Los Angeles, he said, even to the Caribbean.
ARCHER: Who is this guy that's going around, taking trips? He's got money but he's staying in a mission.
O'BRIEN: So in those anxious days after 9/11, Archer called the FBI. An agent told him those trips meant that John Allen Muhammad was probably a drug dealer. At the same time, Muhammad's life began to unravel. His wife, Mildred, had filed for divorce and legal custody of their children while he was in Antigua. It turned out he'd been lying to his own children.
M. MUHAMMAD: They did not know they were kidnapped. Their dad told them that I was coming every time they asked him where I was. He left them with different people to come back to the States. He said he was coming back to the States to look for me.
O'BRIEN: Muhammad's arrival in Washington State set the legal process in motion. A judge granted Mildred custody of her children. John Allen Muhammad became enraged, confronting his ex-wife outside the courtroom.
M. MUHAMMAD: I feel a presence, and I turn, and it's John, walking towards me.
O'BRIEN (on camera): And what did he say (ph)?
M. MUHAMMAD: He is going (ph) to kill me.
O'BRIEN: At that moment?
M. MUHAMMAD: If he could, yes.
O'BRIEN (voice over): The very day she was granted custody, Mildred Muhammad and her kids left Washington State, returning to the Maryland suburbs outside the nation's capital. John Muhammad was alone, so he reached out to the one person he could trust and control: 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo.
Muhammad paid for his trip to Bellingham, with instructions to meet up at Al Archer's shelter. The two became inseparable.
ARCHER: We knew that Lee was being brainwashed.
O'BRIEN (on camera): How did you know that? With what evidence?
ARCHER: Lee was sitting at the table, visiting with the people around the table, like people do. And John walked in, sat down and looked at Lee, and Lee dropped his head and he didn't say anything else.
O'BRIEN: And what did that signal, for the (ph) people watching?
ARCHER: Lee was being trained as a soldier, and we didn't know what battle he was going to fight.
O'BRIEN (voice over): According to social worker Carmita Albarus Lindo - who spent hundreds of hours interviewing and counseling Lee Malvo - John Muhammad preached to Malvo, preached that American society was unjust, especially to African-Americans, and that the only way to correct the injustice was through the barrel of a gun.
LINDO: By the time he had gotten there, in Washington, he was not the loving, kind father that he attached to in Antigua. It was an angry man whose children had been taken from him, and he blamed the system for that.
O'BRIEN: Soon, Muhammad would teach Lee Malvo how to shoot, here at this Tacoma, Washington shooting range.
LINDO: He had him project his own image onto the target, his own face onto that paper plate that they would use. He would talk to that self, connect with his voice to that self, that was there, and he would shoot it.
O'BRIEN: Authorities now believe that Muhammad had Malvo go through a lethal experiment to prove if the young teenager could be trusted to kill.
LINDO: When the first murder occurred, two days before Lee's 17th birthday, he sent him to this woman, to be killed.
O'BRIEN: But it was a horrible case of mistaken identity. The intended victim was a friend of Mildred Muhammad's who had testified on Mildred's behalf during the custody hearings. Instead, Keenya Cook opened the door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're two of the most prolific serial killers this country has ever seen.
O'BRIEN: ... Muhammad and Malvo unleash an unprecedented reign of terror in and around the nation's capital.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, MINDS OF THE D.C. SNIPERS: As the killings and the terror mounted in and around Washington D.C., police were under enormous pressure to do something, anything.
DREW TRACY, ASST. CHIEF OF POLICE, MONTGOMERY CO., MD.: We're all baffled at that point in time. We needed to do something, and I think everybody realized that and they had that sense of urgency. I think that sense of urgency got people in line.
O'BRIEN: But that sense of urgency led to the biggest mistake of the entire three-week manhunt. The belief, based on witness accounts, that the killer or killers had been driving a white box truck.
CHARLES A. MOOSE, CHIEF MONTGOMERY POLICE DEPT., MD.: I also know we can't be everywhere all the time.
O'BRIEN: The public face of the investigation was Charles A. Moose, the chief of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department.
MOOSE: It was our commitment to not dismiss a witness, no matter how inconvenient it might have made it for people with those types of vans, no matter how broad-based that suspect vehicle was, it was still something we heard consistently from possible witnesses.
O'BRIEN: Moose is now a beat cop in Honolulu, and this is his first network television interview in more than three years.
MOOSE: For some reason, it didn't click, for some reason, the perpetrators were able to mask their guilt. We're all people. We make mistakes.
O'BRIEN: Mistakes, because too much time and too much manpower were thrown into the search for the white van, overlooking other leads. Police later agreed, that would turn out to be correct.
DEIDRE I. WALKER, ASST. CHIEF OF POLICE, MONTGOMERY CO., MD.: The white van was all we had. It obviously resulted in witness pollution. You can't go out on the street. You can't go anywhere without seeing a white van.
KELLI ARENA, CNN, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So everybody was looking, you know, for a white van and I really think that was a disservice, not only to the people working the case but to the community.
O'BRIEN: CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena was on the story from the beginning.
ARENA: People weren't worried about dark Chevy Caprices. They were worried about some guy driving a white van.
O'BRIEN: Kelli had begun to hear stories about another car, a dark- colored sedan that had been seen and even stopped by police several times.
MOOSE: Thank you.
ARENA: Moose just dismissed it and they really seemed to be just not willing to hear that information.
O'BRIEN: It turned out, of course, that this was the car, a dark blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. Not only had police in Baltimore and Washington investigated the car, because it seemed suspicious to them, it had even gotten parking tickets. John Allen Muhammad's name had even been run through police computers, not once, but several times. Still, investigators didn't make the connection.
MICHAEL BOURCHARD, ASST. DIR. BUR. OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO AND FIREARMS: We knew the Caprice was stopped and that was one of the many leads that came in, and quite frankly, there were too many dots. I can't explain how bad it made us feel that, you know, a sense of failure that you know, we just couldn't get the job done.
O'BRIEN: And there were more false alarms. Like this 911 call from Virginia about another sniper killing, a call that seemed to confirm police suspicions about the mysterious white van.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CALLER: The guy is dead. He's lying on the car. And there's a white van just went by with two guys in it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Police found those two men, illegal immigrants with no connection to the case. And then, just when the investigation seemed to come to a dead end, suddenly, new clues, and lots of them.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't say anything. Just listen.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Phone calls from the killers themselves.
TRACY: They would call up either the hotline or one of the police stations and basically they were blown off like hey, call this number, you know, this and that.
O'BRIEN: And the snipers began leaving notes, these notes, with colored stars pasted on to a letter that signified each one of their victims. Then, they demanded money, $10 million, deposited into a secure offshore account.
TRACY: There was a demand for money. There were demands, in terms of how we interacted with the media. There was no kind of linear progression of things.
O'BRIEN: Throughout that deadly month, Mildred Muhammad sat worrying in her suburban Maryland condominium, worrying that her ex- husband, John, would soon find her. It never occurred to her that John Allen Muhammad, her ex-husband, was a D.C. sniper.
MILDRED MUHAMMAD, JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD'S EX-WIFE: I thought it was a sniper but I was looking for John. I didn't put the two together.
O'BRIEN: From the moment the judge granted her custody of their three kids, Mildred worried that John was stalking them. She remembers the day when she believes John Muhammad and Lee Malvo showed up near her home. She was out walking with a friend.
M. MUHAMMAD: The driver looks at us, but the passenger is reading the newspaper. He pulls the paper up to shield his identity, and I was like, did you see that? She says, "yes." I got my cell phone and I called 911. They said, can you describe the car? I said it is like a dark blue Impala Caprice or something with New Jersey plates. She said is that it? I said yes, ma'am.
APRIL CARROLL, ATF AGENT: It was just devastating that now the best lead we had for three weeks was out there.
O'BRIEN: Next, leaks to the media threaten to derail the entire investigation.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Don Lemon live here at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.
Headlines for you.
An arrest today in the gruesome discovery of six corpses in and around the home in Ohio. All six decomposing bodies are women and they appear to have been straggled. The suspect 50-year-old Anthony Sole is currently a suspect in a sexual assault and he has been convicted of rape once before. A coroner tell CNN that the bodies could have been there for months, if not years.
A search and rescue operation is still going on off the coast of Southern California. A Coast Guard C130 and a marine helicopter collided Thursday night. There were nine military personnel on board the two aircraft. Still, no sign of them. Crews have found debris and the search has been going on non-stop and covers nearly 650 square miles.
And there were of lots ghouls, ghost and goblins at the White House this evening, and they are all really cute. The president and the First Lady welcome the children of military families and also school children from across the Washington area. Plenty of colorful costumes you could see worn by children and even adults. They enjoyed live music and lots of treats, and thankfully, no tricks to report.
I'm Don Lemon. CNN PRESENTS: INSIDE THE MINDS OF THE D.C. SNIPERS continues right now.
O'BRIEN: During those weeks of stark terror in and around Washington D.C., the snipers killed and lived out of this. A 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, once a Camden, New Jersey police cruiser, this small beveled hole in the trunk was for the sniper's rifle, a perfect platform for murder.
RALPH DAIGNEAU, CRIME SCENE ANALYST, PRINCE WILLIAM CO., VA.: How could, in a crowded parking lot, during the day, in a congested restaurant area, gas station, an incident take place and they could fly underneath the radar or evade law enforcement? This is one of the reasons why. We found four major modifications.
O'BRIEN: Crime scene analyst Ralph Daigneau had kept the car in an evidence warehouse for three years.
DAIGNEAU: The firewall has been cut out.
O'BRIEN: This is the closest look ever by a television team.
DAIGNEAU: Shooting from a vehicle is one thing, but preparing it as they did, as a, in a sense, a killing machine.
O'BRIEN: It was a customized killing machine, darker than normal tinting on the back windows. The firewall between the trunk and the rear seat removed, allowing the snipers to lie down and crawl into the trunk, as in this FBI recreation. Half of the inside trunk lid was sprayed with blue paint to prevent light from bouncing off when raised. The car's battery was rigged to run a stolen laptop computer with map software to make killing locations easy to find. And this is the view that John Allen M. MUHAMMAD and Lee Boyd Malvo had when they pulled the trigger.
CARROLL: Muhammad apparently had seen some of that high technique used in the military, where you could actually shoot somebody and the round would be caught in the vehicle, you wouldn't be seen.
O'BRIEN: Of course, investigators didn't know any of that in late October 2002. In fact, the one solid lead they had was from a man who had befriended Muhammad in the army. His name, Robert Holmes. Holmes called the FBI and told them his ex-army buddy had actually talked to him about killing strangers and had practiced target shooting in his back yard in Tacoma, Washington. That phone call and that information was supposed to have been secret. ATF agent April Carroll was one of the few authorized to know, but suddenly, it was all over television.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Agents from the FBI and ATF had just finished up their search.
CARROLL: I saw on the TVs in the precinct station that they were in Tacoma, Washington, over Robert Holmes', you know, physical residence, where we were conducting a search warrant and I went into the ladies' room and felt like I was going to throw up. It was just devastating; that now the best lead we had in this case for the entire investigation of three weeks was out there.
O'BRIEN: It was very bad news for investigators. But once the local news team saw what was happening, there were no more secrets.
JEAN MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the first piece of information they have out there...
O'BRIEN: Jean Meserve was CNN's lead reporter on the sniper story.
MESERVE: All of the local affiliates were out there in the air and helicopters shooting, not just the stump removal but the grid search. I mean, they had tapes laid out on the ground and officers were walking along it, combing, looking for evidence. No, no secret there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: Well, we do know there is this lookout this evening for this 1990 Chevy blue and burgundy, possibly with two men inside, in connection with this investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Meserve was one of the first to broadcast the big break- through. By identifying the real sniper vehicle, police finally did connect the dots when a Baltimore cop called in the license plate number, and investigators finally matched it with those earlier stops of the Caprice. CNN was on the air within minutes. This was early evening.
Here's a license plate of that 1990 Chevy Caprice.
MESERVE: We put out the license plate number. We put out the name, one step out in the public domain, then a truck driver sees the car at a rest area in Maryland.
O'BRIEN: That's all it took. Around 3:30 a.m., just about five hours after CNN first broadcast the plate number, police and FBI arrested Muhammad and Malvo, just off interstate 270 in Maryland. Montgomery county assistant police chief, Drew Tracy, was in on the arrest.
TRACY: No shots taken. There were no flash bangs, there were no helicopters above. I remember walking up and I remember seeing actually shining in Malvo's head and it was from the glass, they broke to pull them out of the car.
BOUCHARD: As soon as I heard they were taken into custody and found some evidence, it was just a major relief. It was just, you could feel it go through your whole body.
O'BRIEN: The D.C. snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, were in custody, but agonizing questions remained. Why on earth would a man and a boy kill innocent men and women? And with no apparent pattern, no obvious motive. Mildred Muhammad believes she has the answer. She is convinced that Muhammad had planned all along to kill her, and cover it up with a random reign of terror.
M. MUHAMMAD: I would have been another face.
O'BRIEN: Another victim. M. MUHAMMAD: Another victim, and nobody would have been the wiser, because they didn't believe me in the first place.
O'BRIEN: Just ahead, a letter to CNN from convicted D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo. And a message from John Allen Muhammad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD: Hello, everyone. I guess you all thought I was finished. I'm still on death row fighting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: A suburban park in Wheaton, Maryland, an ideal location for a memorial to the ten people killed in the D.C. sniper shootings.
VICKI BUCHANAN-SNYDER: I think it's a beautiful place, and I think it represents how much of who my brother was.
O'BRIEN: Vicki Buchanan-Snyder comes here often. Her brother, Sonny Buchanan, the landscaper shot dead on that first terrible morning.
SNYDER: They shot him in the back, like a coward. I mean, you know, he didn't even know what hit him, but I know he ran for help. I know he struggled to survive.
O'BRIEN: Nonetheless, Vicki Snyder is not out for revenge. She's content with the fact that at age 17, Lee Boyd Malvo did not receive the death penalty for his role in the killing. Malvo is serving life without parole.
CARMITA ALBARUS LINDO, SOCIAL WORKER: Lee will never forgive himself for what has happened. He just hopes that through his writings, through his drawings, people will understand this. This is supposed to be Lee and his father, you know, father and son.
O'BRIEN: Social worker Carmita Albarus Lindo, who spent many hours counseling Malvo believes he is now a very different person.
LINDO: I believe that the monstrous thing that John Muhammad created when he had him, spotted while he shot from the car, I think the thing no longer exists.
O'BRIEN: Malvo has spent much of his time taking college correspondence courses and drawing, always drawing. This is the first time anyone outside a handful of friends has seen his prison self- portraits. Nearly all have one thing in common.
Almost all of his pictures show him crying.
LINDO: Yes. Those are just tears, tears that he sheds for the victims.
O'BRIEN: Lee Malvo is now 22, and spending his days here at this maximum security prison in rural Virginia. He's allowed one hour a day outside his cell. At first Malvo wanted to talk to us about the entire episode, but later changed his mind. He wrote in a letter to CNN, "I'm still grappling with shame, guilt, remorse, and my own healing, if that will ever be possible."
What would you like to see for him?
LINDO: I've always felt that you know, he needed to be in a place where he's not in a prison setting, more a hospital setting. The most that I can do for him is continue to be there, because that is his greatest fear, that, you know, another parental figure would abandon him because that is why he had been exposed all his life.
O'BRIEN: In court, Lee Malvo testified against his surrogate father, John Allen Muhammad. Malvo admitted taking part in the killings and told authorities at least three other murders they had committed in other locations. Prosecutors had little sympathy.
PAUL EBERT, COMMONWEALTH ATTY., PRINCE WILLIAM CO., VA.: At the time I thought he was cold-blooded. He was a person who had chosen a life of crime from the jail, he referred to Muhammad as his "O.G." which is slang for original gangster, sort of like his mentor.
O'BRIEN: And when a Virginia jury spared Lee Malvo's life, some investigators could barely conceal their anger.
CARROLL: That was the hardest day of my career, the day that jury handed down that sentence. The ultimate penalty in the state of Virginia was the death penalty for this type of crime, for capital murder. They were guilty of capital murder. I felt they deserved the worst punishment that state had to offer, and I felt that day that we had failed when Malvo was not sentenced to death.
O'BRIEN: As for John Allen Muhammad, he has never talked on camera about his actions, but CNN's Jeanne Meserve did interview him.
The ground rules? No note taking, no recording devices, and no questions about the shootings themselves.
MESERVE: It was probably one of the most peculiar experiences of my life. It started out with him reaching over and saying, you have something on your nose. I don't happen to believe there was anything on my nose. I think that was Muhammad setting the tone for our conversation and establishing the fact that he was going to be in control.
O'BRIEN: In that interview, Muhammad was defiant.
MESERVE: He said to me he was not going to die for crimes he didn't commit, and that he was not going to spend the rest of his life in jail.
O'BRIEN: This is where John Allen Muhammad resides now, on death row at Sussex One State Prison near Richmond, Virginia. He is still defiant.
JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD: Hello, everyone. I guess you all thought I was finished. I'm still on death row fighting.
O'BRIEN: This is a video made during his Maryland trial after he has been sentenced to death in Virginia. It was handed to CNN during the course of our reporting in the Caribbean. It was made to assist in his defense. A shackled John Muhammad talks to the camera in the presence of two state social workers. What he wants he says is to establish accurate information about the time he spent with Lee Boyd Malvo in the Caribbean.
JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD: So that they can get a better understanding of our relationship with each other, not the distorted relationship that has been torn through the news media.
O'BRIEN: He ends the video on a note of gratitude.
JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD: Thank you for your patience and kindness and the sacrifices that you all always made. Peace and may God be with you all. Thank you.
O'BRIEN: In suburban Maryland, Mildred Muhammad and her three children are getting by, barely. She's begun a non-profit web site called AfterTheTrauma.org to call more attention to the victims of domestic violence. Mildred still believes that her ex-husband can somehow reach out and harm her, that John Allen Muhammad can do anything he puts his mind to, even convince a smart, gifted teenager to become a cold-blooded killer.
Did John have the personality where if he wanted to brainwash someone who is a young man, he could do it?
M. MUHAMMAD: Yes, ma'am.
O'BRIEN: Easily? No doubt in your mind.
M. MUHAMMAD: That boy was a victim before he even knew it. His life was over when he said, Hi.
O'BRIEN: A postscript. John Allen Muhammad has appealed his death sentence on numerous occasions. On Tuesday, November 10th, he is scheduled to be executed at Greensville Correctional Facility in Virginia. Thanks for watching. I'm Soledad O'Brien.