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Prints on rifle, agent says

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Chemical residue found in the trunk of John Allen Muhammad's car suggests the gunman in last year's sniper attacks fired from inside the compartment, a federal agent testified yesterday at Muhammad's murder trial.

In other testimony, another agent said only Lee Boyd Malvo's fingerprints were found on the high-powered rifle allegedly used in the spree. But the prints showed Malvo's hands were not in a firing position at the time, the witness said.

Edward Bender, a forensic chemist for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said nitroglycerine and other chemical residues were "consistent with a firearm being fired inside the trunk."

Prosecutors began the forensic part of their case against Muhammad yesterday after 2 1/2 weeks of presenting evidence of 16 shootings and detailing the arrests of Muhammad and Malvo on Oct. 24, 2002, at a Maryland rest stop.

They introduced evidence in shootings in Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Washington in an effort to show that Muhammad had a role in multiple slayings and terrorized the public -- necessary conditions for the two death penalty charges against him in Virginia.

Charles Colman of the ATF testified that he found prints from Malvo's left ring finger and palm on the rifle, but found none of Muhammad's prints.

Malvo's prints were on the weapon in such a manner that he would have been holding it upside down at the time, Colman said.

"It wasn't any type of firing position," he said.

Prosecutors have argued it is irrelevant who fired the weapon, portraying Muhammad as the "instigator and moving spirit" of the spree. Defense lawyers have argued that identifying the triggerman is crucial in determining whether Muhammad is eligible for the death penalty.

Malvo has admitted firing the shots in many of the attacks, but Malvo's lawyers say their client gave a false confession to protect Muhammad.

FBI fingerprint expert Mitchell Hollars said that he found Malvo's fingerprints on items left behind at a Sept. 21, 2002, shooting in Montgomery, Ala., and an Oct. 19, 2002, shooting in Ashland, Va. He said he found Muhammad's fingerprints on two items that had been in Muhammad's car. Muhammad's fingerprints were also found on a map book found at the scene of the Oct. 9, 2002, shooting of Dean Harold Meyers near Manassas.

The jury also heard testimony about the contents of a laptop computer found in Muhammad's car when he was arrested.

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