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Defense pushes theory of Malvo brainwashing

Trials and ArbitrationJuvenile DelinquencyJustice SystemDeathHomicide

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- Jurors in the Lee Boyd Malvo trial yesterday began getting a fuller picture from the teen-ager's attorneys about how they believe John Allen Muhammad lured the youth under his control and put him on a regimented lifestyle that included doing 50 push-ups as punishment for misbehavior.

The testimony was part of the defense's groundwork for its push to convince the jury that Malvo was desperate for adult attention and was so brainwashed by Muhammad that it should find him not guilty because of insanity. A jury convicted Muhammad last month, and said he should be sentenced to death for the sniper killings that terrorized several states last fall.

Malvo's lawyers contended that Muhammad's military bearing, buff appearance and attention to his children were irresistible to Malvo, who is now 18. Last week, the jury heard how Malvo's mother repeatedly uprooted him, hid him from his father and left him with friends and relatives, which the defense says left him vulnerable.

People in the Caribbean island of Antigua testified yesterday that Muhammad came across as an attentive, stern father while he lived on the island.

Eupersia Douglas, who rented two rooms in her house to Muhammad in the summer of 2000, testified yesterday that she was impressed by the way he looked after his children. He expressed concern for his two daughters, asking her to take care of their needs, she testified.

"He asked me to teach them girl stuff," she said .

"He just loved children," she said, also describing Muhammad as a fine father who took care of household needs. Muhammad also apparently was kind to the youngsters at the school next door, she said.

"If any of them get hurt, he will take them over to the house. If they get cut, he will dress it," she told the nine women and seven men on the jury. "If the school was having a fair, he would buy drinks and ice cream and send it over."

But Muhammad was a stern disciplinarian. When the girls misbehaved, they were sent to bed without television. "The boys, he would say, do 50 push-ups," she testified.

Muhammad and Malvo are suspected of shooting 13 people, 10 fatally, in the Washington-area sniper rampage.

If the jury convicts Malvo of capital murder, it will be asked to decide between execution and life in prison without parole. Malvo was 17 when charged with two counts of capital murder in the fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, who was felled Oct. 14 last year in a Home Depot parking lot near Falls Church, Va.

During his stay in Antigua, according to testimony yesterday, Muhammad appears to have added Malvo to his family. Malvo's mother gave her son to Muhammad as collateral for fake travel papers to the United States in late 2000. The next spring, they all left, although the Douglas family knew none of the details of the sudden move to the United States.

"He was a very caring person," recalled Jerome Martin, who operated an electronics repair shop in Antigua where Malvo and Muhammad's son John Jr. played video games on computers. "He was very attentive to them."

But, Martin said, the children were "very tense in his presence" and would change their demeanor once Muhammad entered the store.

He and his wife, Leonie Martin, said Muhammad introduced Malvo to them as his son. But Leonie Martin said Malvo's Jamaican accented-speech gave away the fact that that was not so. She called Muhammad's parental skills "great," but said that she and others would "laugh after him" because of his boastful nature.

Still, Leonie Martin said she was so impressed with Malvo's good manners that she told her 12-year-old son "I wish you were like Lee."

The testimony sharply contrasted with that of Mildred Muhammad, who had obtained a protective order against her estranged husband and searched frantically for their three children he had spirited away. She won a divorce and custody by default -- she did not know where to serve the court papers on John Muhammad -- and then permission to relocate with the children without telling her former husband where they moved.

The defense contends that the sniper slayings were a plot by John Muhammad to kill his former wife and reclaim the children, but the prosecution has argued the evidence points to a plot to extort $10 million from the government to end the killings.

The defense will try to bolster its claim today by saying that Muhammad might have planned to kill Malvo as well. Today, jurors could be shown a copy of a letter Malvo wrote before the Washington-area shootings to a niece of Muhammad's in Baton Rouge, La.. In it, he wrote that "I have a father who I know is going to have to kill me for a righteous society to prevail."

In her testimony, Mildred Muhammad said that she told police she saw a blue Chevrolet Caprice -- the car police say was outfitted with a sniper's lair in the trunk -- parked Oct. 11 last year near her home in Clinton, Md. But the passenger pulled a newspaper over his face, and she did not know who it was. That day, Kenneth Bridges was killed at a gas station in Fredericksburg, Va.

Jurors were not allowed to hear some particularly damning words from Mildred Muhammad. Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. blocked her from testifying that her husband told her "you have become my enemy, and as my enemy I am going to kill you," and that John Jr. refused to take his asthma medication because his father told him that "you are not a real man if you have asthma."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Trials and ArbitrationJuvenile DelinquencyJustice SystemDeathHomicide
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