Younger Sniper Gets a Sentence of Life in Prison

New York Times/December 24, 2003
By Adam Liptak

Chesapeake, Va. -- A jury spared the life of Lee Malvo on Tuesday, sentencing him to life in prison for murder and terrorism in the sniper attacks last year in the Washington area.

The sentence was handed down weeks after John A. Muhammad, Mr. Malvo's mentor and partner in the attacks, was also convicted of murder and terrorism and sentenced to death. Mr. Malvo, now 18, was 17 at the time of the crimes.

The men still face trials on other murder charges, but the jury's decision to spare Mr. Malvo's life showed that it was reluctant to put a young murderer to death even though it had rejected his insanity defense.

Mr. Malvo was found guilty of killing Linda Franklin, 47, an F.B.I. analyst shot on Oct. 14, 2002, at a Home Depot store in Falls Church. Mr. Muhammad was convicted of killing Dean Meyers, 53, an engineer, on Oct. 9, 2002, at a service station in Manassas.

The lead prosecutor, Robert F. Horan Jr., said Mr. Malvo's youthful appearance was a crucial factor in the sentencing decision. "He's very lucky that he looks a lot younger than he is," Mr. Horan said.

Several of the eight women and four men on the jury appeared at a news conference after court as their foreman read a statement about their deliberations. "This case was both mentally challenging and emotionally exhausting," the foreman, Jim Wolfcale, 41, a minister, said. "Deep thought and consideration went into our deliberations, and the decisions that we made. We, the jury, wish to express our heartfelt sympathy to the victim's family and friends."

Reached by telephone, another juror, Deborah Moulse, 53, a sales representative for a tile company, said: "As a group, we had to dig down deep in our hearts and our minds, and it was not easy. I'm not walking away with any doubts."

Another juror, William G. Hurdle, 70, a retired physical education teacher, said: "I was for the death penalty all along, and there were other jurors who felt like me. But other jurors wanted life in prison. In order for us to have a unanimous decision, I just gave it up."

Mr. Malvo was fined $100,000 on each of the two counts. He will be formally sentenced on March 10. The life sentence was not the outcome that the authorities had hoped for. Attorney General John Ashcroft chose to send the sniper defendants first to Virginia to be tried, largely because both would face the death penalty if convicted. The other jurisdictions that could have tried Mr. Malvo, Maryland, the District of Columbia and the federal system, do not allow juveniles to be executed.

The life sentence ends the opening acts of what will be a long legal drama. Mr. Muhammad was convicted of two counts of capital murder and sentenced to death last month by a jury in Virginia Beach, 15 miles from here. Both men face additional trials. Virginia prosecutors have indicated that they intend to flip the charges against the two men, trying each for the murder of which the other has been convicted.

"I'm confident that Lee has additional trials to face," one of his lawyers, Craig S. Cooley, said after court. He mentioned Baton Rouge, La., and Montgomery, Ala., as the sites of two killings before the Washington rampage. Both states allow juvenile executions.

Mr. Malvo appeared wary and scared as a courtroom clerk read the verdict. A faint smile appeared on his face as he learned that he would not face execution on the first count, for killing Ms. Franklin as part of a terror campaign. A look of relief washed over his face as the second verdict, for multiple killings in a three-year period, was read.

Ms. Franklin's daughter Katrina Hannum, 25, sat in the second row and sobbed as the sentences were read. Ms. Franklin's husband, William, expressed no emotion.

June Boyle, a Fairfax County detective who obtained two damning and chilling hours of audiotaped confessions from Mr. Malvo last November, sat behind Mr. Malvo and scowled and shook her head angrily as the verdict was announced.

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