Malvo convicted of capital murder, faces death penalty or life

Friday, December 19, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- A jury convicted Lee Boyd Malvo of capital murder in the Washington-area sniper case Thursday, rejecting claims that the teenager was brainwashed by John Allen Muhammad into taking part in the three-week reign of terror that left 10 people dead.

The jury now will decide whether Malvo should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. A jury in nearby Virginia Beach convicted Muhammad last month and recommended he be executed for his role as the mastermind of the killings.

Malvo, who often had an animated expression during the trial, leaned on his elbows at the table with a blank look on his face as the verdict was read. The jury deliberated for 13 hours over two days before rejecting Malvo's insanity defense.

Malvo, 18, was convicted of two counts of capital murder in the Oct. 14, 2002, killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, who was cut down by a single bullet to the head outside a Home Depot in Falls Church, Va. The sentencing phase will begin today.

'Sentencing to do'

"I'm happy," said June Boyle, the detective who heard Malvo's confession. "Not all the way happy yet, though. We still have sentencing to do."

One of the counts against Malvo alleged the killing was part of a series of murders over a three-year period; the other alleged that Franklin's killing was intended to terrorize the public. Malvo and Muhammad, 42, are the first people tried under the post-Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism law.

Attorney General John Ashcroft had cited Virginia's ability to impose "the ultimate sanction" in sending Malvo and Muhammad to Virginia for prosecution. Virginia is one of only 21 states that allow the execution of those who were 16 or 17 when they killed. Malvo was 17 at the time of the shootings.

Prosecutors portrayed Malvo as a gleeful and eager triggerman in the October 2002 killing spree, saying he fired shots from the trunk of a beat-up Chevy while Muhammad plotted the attacks.

Ten people were killed and three wounded during the spree -- most them as they went about their daily routines. A 13-year-old boy was wounded after being dropped off at school. A mother was gunned down as she vacuumed her minivan at gas station. One victim was mowing grass when he was killed. Another was buying groceries.

Authorities said the killings were part of an attempt to extort $10 million from the government.

During his closing argument, prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. called Malvo and Muhammad "peas in a pod," motivated by greed and wickedness.

"Their belief, as wild and vicious as it was, was that if they killed enough people, the government would come around" and meet their demand for money, Horan said.

During the six-week trial, jurors saw several grisly crime scene photos and heard two police confessions in which a cocky Malvo gloated about the killings.

Malvo chuckled as he recalled how one victim fell after being struck, while the lawnmower he had been pushing rumbled along. And he bragged that he and Muhammad could pull off a shooting regardless of police presence. "You don't mean nothing," he told a detective. "We will shoot with you there. We shoot with you not there. We will shoot with soldiers there."

Under interrogation, Malvo claimed initially to be the triggerman in all the Washington-area sniper shootings, but later recanted and said Muhammad was the gunman in all but the final shooting.

The defense argued that Malvo initially took the blame to protect Muhammad, the man he had come to view as a father. The defense said Muhammad had "indoctrinated" Malvo with his beliefs about black nationalism, racism, white oppression and revolutionary violence, leaving the young man unable to tell right from wrong. Malvo and Muhammad are black.

According to the defense, Muhammad convinced Malvo that the killings were "designed to achieve a greater good of a fairer and righteous society." Malvo's lawyers called several experts -- including an authority on cults and an expert on child soldiers -- to argue that Malvo was vulnerable to brainwashing by the older Muhammad because of an unstable childhood in which his mother often dropped out of his life.

"Lee could no more separate himself from John Muhammad than you could separate from your shadow on a sunny day," defense attorney Michael Arif said in closing arguments. "He was not the idea man. He was a puppet, molded like a piece of clay by John Muhammad."

The decision to convict on capital murder means that the jury believes Malvo was the triggerman in Franklin's death.

The jury could have convicted Malvo of first-degree murder, which would have taken the death penalty off the table. In addition to the murder charges, Malvo was found guilty of using a firearm in a murder.

Malvo and Muhammad could stand trial again. Prosecutors in Maryland and Louisiana have said they want a crack at Muhammad, and Malvo could face a similar fate.

Virginia is one of only six states that have actually executed a juvenile since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Muhammad was convicted of identical charges for the killing of Dean Harold Meyers at a gas station. The judge could reduce his punishment to life in prison when he sentences Muhammad in February, although Virginia judges rarely overrule a jury's recommendation of death.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: