KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mohammed Whitaker has a story to tell.
And he’s determined to tell it.
He’s called The Kansas City Star at least eight times in recent weeks from the Jackson County jail, where he’s resided since being arrested and charged in mid-April in 10 shootings on area roadways.
He says he’s been wrongly accused.
To prove it, he points to one sheet of paper among hundreds of pages of evidence. It shows which cellphone towers handled calls involving his phone on April 2, the day the sixth shooting happened in a spree that wounded two drivers and terrorized area motorists this spring.
Whitaker’s story hinges on proving a time for that shooting. If the time listed on a police report — about 5:30 p.m. — is correct, then the cellphone tower records show that he could not have been the highway shooter, Whitaker says.
The records place his phone about nine miles from the shooting just six minutes before it reportedly happened in the Three Trails Crossing area during evening rush hour. It’s a route Whitaker often drove from work in Overland Park, Kan., to home in south Kansas City and later Grandview, Mo. He says it usually took him 20 minutes to cover that distance at that time of day.
Yet the shooting victim waited four days to inform Kansas City police. The police report lists the incident date as “approximately” April 2 and gives the time as “approximately 1730,” or 5:30 p.m.
The Star was unable to reach the driver to see how big of a window that “approximate” date and time represented.
According to the police report, the driver heard a metallic bang as his truck left eastbound Interstate 435 and entered the ramp to southbound Interstate 49. He continued south until other motorists flagged him to pull over because gasoline was spilling out of his truck.
A .380-caliber bullet had hit the truck. Authorities allegedly linked it through ballistics testing to bullets recovered from other shootings.
Whitaker, 28, is charged with 20 felony counts stemming from 10 shooting incidents in March and April.
“I feel I was wrongfully accused, and I feel this is a very big mistake,” Whitaker told The Star. “Clearly this evidence indicates they have the wrong suspect.”
Police and prosecutors would not discuss the April 2 incident or Whitaker’s claims. “We save our comments for the courtroom where we await Mr. Whitaker,” said Mike Mansur, a spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office.
Whitaker’s attorney also said he could not comment.
The reliability of cellphone tracking evidence has been called into question in recent years by courts around the country.
In a 2012 kidnapping case, a federal judge in Chicago did not allow a government expert to testify about cell tower evidence because she found that it “has not been subject to scientific testing or formal peer review and has not been generally accepted in the scientific community.”
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Michael Cherry, the CEO of Cherry Biometrics, a Falls Church, Va.-based consulting firm, said that based on a number of factors, a person could be using a phone 20 or more miles from a particular tower.
“There can be a whole bunch of cell towers that overlap,” Cherry said. “It wouldn’t necessarily show that he wasn’t at the crime scene.”
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In calls from the jail, Whitaker told The Star he had received enough paperwork through the discovery process to fill two bank boxes. Though The Star asked him to share more, he sent only 11 pages.
They included three pages of cellphone mapping data and a report that says police obtained his phone records from Sprint Corp. and imported the data into mapping software used by law enforcement.
Whitaker also sent a Leawood, Kan., police report showing he was not working when any of the shootings happened. That report says he logged out of work at 5:15 p.m. April 2. After that, he would have walked to a parking garage, he said.
The cellphone tower coverage map, labeled “draft” and “for law enforcement use only,” shows Whitaker’s phone was near 115th Street and Metcalf Avenue when he made a call about 5:26 p.m. April 2.
Whitaker said he thought he placed the call while in the parking garage. He said he didn’t like to use the phone while driving because his car had a standard transmission. The call went to an indoor shooting facility in Overland Park where he sometimes bought ammunition, Whitaker said.
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Because April 2 was a Wednesday, a Star reporter drove the same route last Wednesday, leaving Whitaker’s workplace the same time as his phone call. It took the reporter 19 1/2 minutes to reach the highway split where the shooting occurred.
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When police arrested Whitaker on April 17, they searched his home and car. In the house, they found a .380 handgun, court records said. In the car, they found an apparent bullet hole in the front passenger door that originated from inside the vehicle, according to court records.
During interrogation, Whitaker told police he had been a victim of the highway shooter. He repeated that to The Star, saying he never filed a police report because he was driving with a revoked license at the time.
Authorities have not said whether testing has matched the gun found in Whitaker’s house to the shootings.
“I was wrongfully accused of being the highway shooter,” Whitaker told The Star. “I am actually an unreported victim. The detectives definitely jumped to conclusions when they presented their investigation of me to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
“ … The real highway shooter is still out there.”
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PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): HIGHWAY-SHOOTINGS