Suspected highway shooter Mohammed Whitaker appeared in Jackson County District Court for the first time Monday, showing no emotion as a judge spent six minutes detailing 18 felony charges filed against him.
Whitaker, 27, wore an orange jail jumpsuit with his hands shackled at his waist in front of him during the arraignment at 11 a.m. He was one of eight defendants being arraigned Monday, but the judge handled his arraignment first, leaving the other seven inmates in another room.
“They’re going to need to wait,” a bailiff told another court employee. “We’re going to do this one first.”
When Whitaker entered the courtroom, a bailiff told him to stand directly in front of the judge.
“The state of Missouri has charged you with numerous counts,” Judge Mary F. Weir said. “I’m going to read those to you.”
Whitaker looked at Weir and occasionally glanced at the floor while she read the allegations that he shot and wounded two motorists and shot at seven other motorists in Kansas City and Lee’s Summit between March 18 and April 6. He showed no emotion, but began blinking heavily several minutes into the list.
Weir entered a routine not-guilty plea for Whitaker, told him he had the right to remain silent and advised him to do so. Then she asked if he could afford an attorney.
Whitaker shook his head and answered, “no.”
Whitaker’s bond remained at $1 million, cash-only, Weir told him, adding that he is forbidden from contacting victims or witnesses.
Weir set his next court date for May 1 and handed Whitaker information about how to contact the public defender’s office.
Six bailiffs and deputies provided security during the hearing. They marched the other seven inmates in front of Whitaker and into their seats before allowing Whitaker to leave down the hallway where the other inmates had been waiting.
No friends or relatives of Whitaker or any victims attended the hearing, just three journalists and a courthouse spokeswoman. Whitaker did not look at anyone in the gallery. No cameras were allowed in the courtroom.
Jackson County prosecutors on Friday charged Whitaker in connection with the series of shootings that terrorized motorists and captured national attention. Although police investigated about 20 similar shootings and had linked 12 shootings to the same gun, prosecutors filed criminal charges in just nine cases. In each of those nine, police recovered, tested and matched spent .380-caliber bullets.
While Whitaker was transferred between the police jail and the county jail on Friday, a Star reporter asked whether he had committed the shootings, and Whitaker shook his head no.
Authorities have said they know of no motive for the shootings. They believe Whitaker acted alone said he had little criminal record.
Evidence began pointing to Whitaker on April 8 and police began trailing him April 11 while they finished testing evidence and gathering new information. While under surveillance, police saw Whitaker allegedly driving aggressively and stalking potential victims by pacing cars in their blind spots on highways, according to court records. Whitaker even braked rapidly to allow another motorist to pull up alongside, investigators reported. Whitaker turned to face the motorist, not knowing he was an undercover officer, the records show.
Undercover officers also watched as Whitaker met with a man to buy a handgun with a laser-sight in the Bass Pro Shops parking lot in Independence on April 11, four days after police publicly announced they were investigating a possible serial shooter. The sale fell through because Whitaker refused to provide identification to the seller, court records said.
On April 13, police said they saw Whitaker driving in heavy rain with his windows rolled down near the Three Trails Crossing, where many of the shootings occurred, wearing sunglasses and a hoodie. At least one victim of the crime spree said the highway shooter wore a mask, sunglasses and hoodie.
The risk of allowing Whitaker to remain free appeared to hit a breaking point for police Wednesday night when they said they observed him following a white Honda near Interstate 49 and 140th Street. Whitaker intentionally crossed all lanes of traffic with his eyes trained on the Honda and “veered directly at the Honda,” narrowly missing it, according to court records.
Police arrested Whitaker at his Grandview apartment Thursday night, believing they had enough evidence to justify it. Their evidence included tips from the public, fingerprints on an ammunition box and shopping bag, and a spent bullet that had been fired into Whitaker’s former neighbor’s house that matched bullets fired in the series of highway shootings.
The police investigation continues.
Police said they found a .380-caliber gun, .380-caliber ammunition, a black bandana and a green leafy substance inside his dresser in Whitaker’s apartment, where he apparently lived alone.
Whitaker told detectives he didn’t know much about the shootings, then said he was a victim of the “highway shooter” but couldn’t explain why he had a bullet hole on the inside, not outside, of his car, according to court records. He said he didn’t own a gun but couldn’t explain why police found one in his dresser. He wept at times in the interrogation room, police said.
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