Sniper Suspect's Behavior Scrutinized

Sniper Suspect Lee Boyd Malvo's Behavior Scrutinized for Sanity As His Trial Continues

The Associated Press/December 5, 2003

Chesapeake, Va. -- When a social worker first interviewed sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo in jail, she was struck by the fact that the 18-year-old, who had spent almost all his life in Jamaica, acted like an oppressed American. Carmeta Albarus, herself a Jamaican native, testified Thursday at Malvo's trial that she was taken aback that Malvo's Jamaican accent had totally disappeared. Malvo talked about racial injustice excessively, even though he attended one of the best high schools in Jamaica and lived in a nation where more than 90 percent of the country is black.

What's more, he insisted he be called John Lee Muhammad and was extremely defensive of the man he considered to be his father, John Allen Muhammad.

"Something was amiss in this Jamaican boy," she said.

For the defense, Albarus' testimony demonstrated the level of brainwashing Malvo had undergone at the hand of Muhammad, who has already been convicted of capital murder in the Washington-area sniper shootings.

Prosecutors, though, say none of the evidence in the case demonstrates that Malvo could not tell right from wrong.

Albarus' first interview with Malvo was in March, five months after he and Muhammad were arrested.

Malvo also had complete confidence in Muhammad's plan to create a new, righteous society by taking 70 boys and 70 girls of all races to a compound in Canada who would then go out and change the world.

"I pointed out how ludicrous the thought was ... but he felt very confident this could be done because we have to start with the children," she said.

The $10 million demanded by the snipers in notes left at the crime scenes would have provided the funds to buy the land and establish the compound, Malvo told Albarus.

The defense contends Malvo was legally insane because Muhammad had indoctrinated Malvo to the extent that he could no longer tell right from wrong.

Prosecutors said the evidence doesn't demonstrate Malvo could not tell right from wrong. They challenged Thursday whether the jury should even be allowed to consider Malvo's mental health as a defense for last year's sniper spree, which left 10 people dead in the Washington, D.C., area.

Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said he is contending with "an insanity defense that's like a puff of smoke."

In response to Horan's concerns, Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush elicited assurances from the defense that at least one of their mental-health experts will testify that Malvo was so brainwashed he could not tell right from wrong.

Albarus, who investigated Malvo's social history in the Caribbean, made no assertions about Malvo's sanity, nor was that requested of her. But she did say that in about 70 hours of meetings with Malvo, the 18-year-old exhibited traits that seemed to show Muhammad's influence.

In a phone conversation with his natural father, Malvo reverted to his old Jamaican accent. He became teary-eyed when an old teacher visited, and he broke down and wept after receiving a videotaped message from his aunt, Albarus said.

Earlier Thursday, a clinical psychologist testified that Malvo was strangely cheerful during a daylong neuropsychological evaluation in August.

"It was almost a goofy affect, if you will, which seemed quite out of step with the seriousness of the situation," said David Schretlen, who teaches at Johns Hopkins University.

Intelligence tests showed Malvo had an average IQ of 98. During personality tests, Malvo described himself as "socially alienated and detached from other people" and "hypervigilant," Schretlen said.

"My conclusion is that Mr. Malvo produced an abnormal neuropsychological examination," Schretlen said.

He based his conclusions on the fact that Malvo scored in the bottom 10 percent of the population for tests related to ability to quickly process information. On one of those tests he scored in the bottom 1 percent.

Depression or anxiety could cause those results, Schretlen said, but he said he did not see evidence of that.

Another possibility, he said, is a dissociative disorder, in which a patient loses touch with reality. A dissociative disorder could potentially form the basis of an insanity defense.

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