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Experts Seek to Understand Washington-Area Sniper's Motives - 2002-10-27


Prosecutors from local jursdictions and the federal government are wrangling over who should prosecute the suspects charged in connection with the Washington area sniper shootings. Criminal experts are trying to understand the motives of the two suspects.

John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, 17, are charged with murder in connection with the shooting spree, that left 10 people dead. The pair eluded federal, state and local authorities for weeks.

Authorities began to piece together clues after one of the suspects began calling a police hotline in apparent frustration.

Reid Meloy is a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego. Dr. Meloy, appearing on the NBC television program Meet the Press, said mass murder cases are often solved by tips, such as those unwittingly offered up to police. "I think, in this case, the growing sense of entitlement and a sense of being all-powerful led to this individual making a comment in terms of sort of accelerating his own sense of power. And then that comment led to Montgomery, Alabama," he explained.

In Alabama, a fingerprint belonging to John Lee Malvo was found at the scene of an unsolved murder-robbery. That helped Washington-area authorities crack the case.

Also appearing on Meet the Press Sunday was Chris Whitcomb, a former hostage team member with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Whitcomb believes the seeds of the shooting spree were planted when Mr. Mohammad, a Gulf War veteran, served in the U.S. Army. There are reports that his life degraded into a vagabond existence after his time in the service.

Mr. Whitcomb said it is likely Mr. Mohammad recalled sharpshooters he had known. "That was a natural extension. That he went back to what he had always admired, what he had probably always wanted to be. And then he moved farther and farther into this sniper lifestyle, and started living out this fantasy," he said.

Meanwhile, a man was arrested in Michigan as a material witness. Authorities say he co-owned the car believed to have been used in the sniper shootings. Authorities say Nathaniel Osbourne is fully cooperating.

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