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Expert links sniper suspect to weapon

A rifle found in John Allen Muhammad's car was used in the sniper slayings, a weapons expert testifies.

By Associated Press
Published November 7, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The rifle found in sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad's car was the weapon used to kill eight people and wound three during last year's sniper attacks, a ballistics expert testified Thursday.

Walter A. Dandridge Jr. of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said he examined microscopic markings left on fired bullets, bullet fragments and casings taken from shooting victims or crime scenes.

Such markings are unique to each individual weapon, he said.

"I was able to determine that each of the bullets and bullet fragments were fired from the same firearm," Dandridge told the jury at Muhammad's murder trial.

Dandridge then matched those fragments to the .223-caliber semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle found in Muhammad's car when Muhammad was arrested last fall in Maryland.

The bullets that killed Dean Harold Meyers and seven other victims in the Washington area last October came from the Bushmaster "to the exclusion of all other firearms," and so did the bullets that wounded three other victims, Dandridge said.

Muhammad, 42, is on trial in the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Meyers at a gasoline station near Manassas, Va. Prosecutors have not presented evidence in all 10 of the slayings because of concerns about the evidence.

Dandridge also testified that a Sept. 21, 2002, shooting death at a liquor store in Montgomery, Ala., was linked to the Bushmaster - possibly indicating Muhammad fired the shot.

And Pat Lane of the Louisiana state crime laboratory testified the Bushmaster was used in a deadly shooting at a Baton Rouge beauty products store two days later.

Experts on Thursday also linked the .22-caliber handgun found after the Alabama shootings to two other shootings in Maryland in September 2002. Those victims survived.

Later Thursday, prosecutors wheeled into court the back end of a car similar to Muhammad's to show how it was modified into what they say was a platform for the sniper shootings.

Jurors also watched a videotape showing a police officer sitting in the back seat of Muhammad's car, lifting a specially hinged seat, crawling into the trunk and firing a rifle through a notch cut in the trunk.

Defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to exclude the evidence, arguing the presentations did not accurately demonstrate the difficulty of climbing into the trunk - and omitted the large amount of clutter there.

"There's no purpose except it's real emotional and it makes a big splash," said defense attorney Peter Greenspun.

Muhammad could get the death penalty if convicted.

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