Jury to Decide if Malvo Should Die

Malvo convicted in sniper slaying; same jury to decide whether he should live or die

Associated Press/December 19, 2003
By Matthew Barakat

Chesapeake, Va. -- The jury that convicted teenage sniper Lee Boyd Malvo of capital murder for his role in last year's killing spree must also decide whether he should die for his crimes.

Malvo was convicted Thursday of two counts of capital murder for the Oct. 14, 2002, killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, one of 10 people killed by Malvo and partner John Allen Muhammad during a three-week span in the nation's capital region.

The jury, which deliberated for nearly two full days before rendering its verdict, will now hear testimony and arguments beginning Friday from the prosecution and defense to decide whether Malvo's life should be spared.

Malvo's lawyers had presented an insanity defense, claiming that Muhammad had brainwashed Malvo so thoroughly that the teen came to believe his father figure was chosen by Allah to begin a new Utopian society in Canada.

Many of the witnesses who testified during the guilt phase of the trial about Malvo's behavior as a child and teenager will also be called during the sentencing phase. It is expected that many will talk about Malvo's difficult upbringing, in which his mother beat him and moved him from home to home, all while he searched for a father figure.

Though the insanity defense failed, the jury has already been introduced to many of the arguments the defense will make during sentencing, said Joseph Bowman, a defense attorney who has handled capital cases in Virginia.

"By putting on all this psychiatric testimony during the guilt phase, they were able to slip in a lot of evidence to the jury about Malvo's childhood and how and why he could have done what he did," Bowman said. The jury might be more sympathetic to such testimony because they are familiar with it, he said.

Prosecutors complained frequently during the trial that the insanity defense was simply a red herring that allowed the defense to present sympathetic testimony for their client that would normally not be allowed in the guilt phase of a trial.

Malvo, whose expressions had often been animated throughout the trial, leaned on his elbows at the table with a blank look on his face while the verdict was read. The jury had deliberated for 13 hours over two days.

Family members of the sniper victims patted each other on the shoulders as the verdict was read, while Franklin's daughter, Katrina Hannum, cried.

Bob Meyers, whose brother was gunned down during the attacks, said he was pleased with the verdict. Muhammad, 42, was convicted of identical charges for killing Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas gas station.

"We believe that justice has been served," Meyers said outside the court.

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 were wounded during the spree - most them as they went about their daily routines.

Authorities say the killings were part of an attempt to extort $10 million from the government. Malvo and Muhammad were the first two people tried under Virginia's post-Sept. 11 terrorism law.

Malvo was sent to face trial in Virginia on Nov. 7 of last year when he was 17. Attorney General John Ashcroft said he wanted Malvo to be tried in Virginia because of its reputation for imposing the death penalty.

Virginia is one of 21 states that allow the execution of 16- and 17-year-olds. The state is one of only six that have actually executed a juvenile since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

If the Malvo jury recommends death, Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush will have the option to reduce the sentence to life in prison. If the jury decides for life in prison, its decision cannot be changed.

Bowman said that statistically, a failed insanity defense usually results in a death sentence. In this case, though, he predicted the jury will come back with a life sentence.

He pointed to the length of the deliberations as well as a question the jury asked during deliberations, seeking clarification of what it means to act "under the control of reason."

"My guess is they were considering whether this Malvo was under the control of reason or under the control of Muhammad," Bowman said. That they apparently seriously considered the brainwashing argument, he said, is a good sign that they will be sympathetic to defense pleas to spare Malvo's life.

Donald H. Smith, an Old Dominion University sociology professor who studies jury behavior, said some of the jurors who work with children may have difficulty recommending the death penalty. The jurors include a teacher, a retired teacher, a retired assistant principal and a lunchroom monitor.

Muhammad has been convicted of identical charges and a jury has already recommended a death sentence. He will be sentenced officially in February.

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