Tacoma Death Linked to Sniper Suspect

ByABC News

Oct. 28, 2002 -- Authorities in Tacoma, Wash., have linked sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo to a shooting death of a 21-year-old woman whose aunt once worked for Muhammad's auto repair business.

Muhammed and Malvo also were linked to a shooting last spring at a Tacoma synagogue, but no one was injured in that incident, Tacoma police and representatives of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said at a news conference.

The announcement from Washington state comes as Muhammad and Malvo, already facing multiple murder charges in Maryland, were indicted today on capital murder and other charges in the sniper shootings in three Virginia counties. More indictments are expected.

Tonight, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame said Muhammad, 41,and Malvo, 17, are suspects in the killing of 21-year-oldKeenya Cook on Feb. 16. She was shot in the face at her home.

A Tacoma-area man contacted authorities last week and said he let Muhammad and Malvo borrow weapons, including a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun, said Brame. "As a result, we now consider John Allen Muhammad and John LeeMalvo as suspects in the Keenya Cook homicide," the police chief said.

Investigators recovered three handguns and two rifles from theman, including two allegedly used in the crimes, Tacoma policespokesman Jim Mattheis said. Ballistics tests confirmed that bothweapons were used in separate shootings, he said.

Charges in D.C.-Area Shootings

Prosecutors from Spotsylvania, Hanover and Prince William counties in Virginia joined Maryland's Montgomery County in filing charges against Muhammad and Malvo in the sniper shootings that left 10 people dead and three wounded.

Last Friday, Montgomery County became the first of the seven jurisdictions affected by the serial sniper attacks to charge Muhammad and Malvo, filing six counts of murder against the pair.

In Spotsylvania County, Muhammad, 41, was charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting of Kenneth Bridges at a gas station near Fredericksburg on Oct. 11, and with attempted capital murder and aggravated malicious wounding in the shooting of a woman in a crafts store parking lot on Oct. 4.

Spotsylvania County Sheriff Ronald Knight said similar charges were brought against Malvo, 17, in juvenile court, and a petition would be filed later this week to try him as an adult.

Hanover County Commonwealth's Attorney Kirby Porter announced today that Muhammad and Malvo were charged in his jurisdiction with attempted capital murder in the shooting of a man in the parking lot of a Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland, and both were also indicted under the state's terrorist enterprise statute.

And in Prince William County, prosecutors announced Muhammad and Malvo were being charged for capital murder for the Oct. 9 slaying of Dean Harold Meyers as well as conspiracy to commit murder and illegal use of a firearm.

Though Malvo is only 17, prosecutors in all three Virginia counties said they want to try him as an adult. Maryland also hopes to try Malvo as an adult and seek the death penalty against him and Muhammad.

However, even if a jury did decide that Malvo should be put to death, Maryland does not allow juveniles to be executed. Virginia, however, does.

Possible Murder Link in Tacoma

As more charges mounted against Mohammad and Malvo, sources told ABCNEWS that police found a global positioning device and a laptop computer in the Chevy Caprice the two were riding in the night they were captured. Some investigators, sources said, believe Malvo was actually the gunman in some of the killings. His fingerprints are on the suspected murder weapon, Bushmaster XM-15 .223 rifle, the sources said.

While prosecutors in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., vie with each other and the federal government over who will get the first crack at trying Muhammad and Malvo, the two have also been charged in a fatal shooting last month outside a liquor store in Montgomery, Ala. Federal prosecutors are expected to announce this week whether they intend to file federal charges, which could supersede state charges.

And investigators on the West Coast are also hoping to question Muhammad. Authorities in Tacoma, Wash., want to know whether he was responsible for the killing of a woman who was shot in the face as she opened the door of her home eight months ago.

Police had no suspects in the killing of Keenya Cook, 21, and her family had little reason to believe the killer would be caught.

But then they saw a familiar face on television: John Allen Muhammad, a man who had eaten dinner at their house and was now implicated in the sniper killings that had been terrorizing the suburbs around Washington, D.C.

Was Victim’s Aunt the Intended Target?

Cook's mother, Pamala Nichols, made the connection: "It's him, it's him, it's him, it's him … it's got to be him," she said. "He killed my child first, he killed in Maryland … Alabama. But he was here when my child was killed."

Cook was killed on Feb. 16 when she opened the door at the home of her aunt, Isa Nichols, where she had been staying. She died from a single bullet fired from a .45-caliber handgun.

Tacoma police say Muhammad, a Gulf War veteran, had ties to Cook. Members of her family reportedly said he bore a grudge against her aunt, who worked with Muhammad at one time and clashed with him when she sided against him in a custody issue.

Investigators are now looking at the possibility that Isa Nichols was the intended target in the February attack.

Tacoma police records show that Muhammad was in the area four days before the shooting, when he was arrested for allegedly shoplifting $27 worth of meat and frozen foods from a grocery store. When he was arrested in Maryland last week, authorities seized a handgun in addition to the Bushmaster rifle allegedly used in the sniper attacks.

Cook's mother suspects it was a vendetta killing. "He didn't like Isa, that's what my brother told me," said Pamala Nichols.

Muhammad and Malvo have also moved toward the top of the potential suspect list for investigators probing other unsolved killings across the Seattle-Tacoma area. The Washington state Attorney General's Office has even directed staff with the Homicide Investigation Tracking System to scour its database for unsolved cases that could fit the profile of the sniper attacks.

Authorities in Washington state are examining all unsolved homicides in the state for a possible connection to Muhammad, but the Cook case is the only one where a personal connection is known to exist thus far.

ABCNEWS' Pierre Thomas in Washington, D.C., Neal Karlinksy and Mike Gudgell in Seattle and ABCNEWS affiliate KOMO in Seattle contributed to this report.

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