Sniper suspects' defense attorneys criticize interrogation of teen-age suspect

By MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press Writer

McLEAN, Va. (AP) - Lawyers for the sniper suspects criticized the police interrogation of 17-year-old John Lee Malvo and said they would seek to bar his alleged confession from court.

Malvo reportedly confessed to being the triggerman in several of the Washington-area sniper shootings, including the Virginia slaying in which his alleged accomplice, 41-year-old John Allen Muhammad, is charged with murder.

Malvo's lawyer, Michael Arif, criticized police for questioning Malvo without his court-appointed guardian or attorney and for leaking the alleged confession to The Washington Post.

"The police are flooding the media and poisoning the jury pool with their own paraphrasing and subjective interpretations of statements made during an unconstitutional interrogation," Arif said.

He said the leak "suggests an insecurity on the part of the commonwealth with the admissibility of these statements."

Malvo talked to investigators for seven hours after he and Muhammad were handed over to Virginia authorities Thursday for prosecution on death-penalty murder charges. Sources told the Post that Malvo was talkative and even bragged in some of his responses, but kept quiet about Muhammad.

For a murder conviction, prosecutors must show that the defendant was the triggerman. However, under the state's post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism law, Muhammad could face the death penalty even if he is not found to be the gunman.

A Fairfax County police spokesman declined to comment on the interrogation, and Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. did not return calls.

One of the shootings for which Malvo reportedly took responsibility is the Oct. 14 slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin. Fairfax County prosecutors charged Malvo with capital murder in that killing.

Muhammad is being prosecuted in Prince William County for the Oct. 9 slaying of Dean Harold Meyers. It is unclear how Malvo's alleged confession to that crime might affect Muhammad's case.

Muhammad's attorney, Peter Greenspun, declined to comment on the case directly, but said the interrogation of Malvo without his court-appointed representatives was wrong.

"I think everybody should be concerned about that, not just lawyers," he said.

Todd G. Petit, Malvo's appointed guardian, said he went to police headquarters Thursday and asked that questioning be halted. Petit said a police commander agreed to pass on his request, then ordered him to leave.

Arif said he will seek to suppress any incriminating statements.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel O. Osbourne, the New Jersey man who befriended the two suspects, said he felt sorry for them and helped Muhammad buy and register the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice that was later allegedly used in the attacks.

"He never talked to me about anything of a criminal nature," Osbourne told the Post in Monday's editions. "People may ask, 'Did they present themselves as vicious criminals?' And I never saw that."

Osbourne, who was freed last week by federal authorities after being detained as a material witness, said when they arrived in New Jersey in early September, apparently by bus, they were disheveled and nearly penniless, reeking in soiled clothes. Their goal, he said, was to get a car to continue their travels.

"They wanted a car from the beginning," Osbourne said.

"I had great compassion for them when I saw them," he recalled. "I looked at them, man, and said to myself, 'Life is no promise. There is no guarantee.'"

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)