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Testimony completed in trial of Malvo

2 rebuttal psychologists say teen knew right from wrong during shootings; Jurors could get case today; Charged in sniper attack, teen claims insanity in capital murder case

By Andrea F. Siegel

Sun Staff

December 16, 2003

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CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Testimony ended yesterday in the capital murder trial of Lee Boyd Malvo after two psychologists for the prosecution told jurors that the teen-ager was not mentally ill when he took part in the sniper attacks that gripped the Washington area in fear last year.

The defense and prosecution rested by late in the day, and Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush told jurors that Malvo's fate could be in their hands as early as today. They will decide if he is guilty, innocent or not guilty by reason of insanity on two counts of capital murder and a weapons charge.

One murder count accuses Malvo of multiple murders, the other of violating the state's untested anti-terrorism law by seeking to extort $10 million from the government to halt the shootings.

Prosecutors contend that it doesn't matter if he pulled the trigger because he was intimately involved - a position the defense disputes.

The psychologists, testifying as rebuttal witnesses, said that Malvo knew right from wrong when at age 17 he took part in killing FBI analyst Linda Franklin. Franklin was shot in the head Oct. 14 last year in the parking lot of a Home Depot near Falls Church, Va.

Malvo told mental health experts for both sides that he was the spotter, not shooter, in Franklin's killing - and the defense has never denied Malvo's involvment in the series of shootings that killed 10 people and wounded three others during three weeks last October.

The prosecution psychologists said yesterday that Malvo was not brainwashed, as his lawyers have contended in their insanity defense. They also discounted a defense contention that Malvo suffered a harsh childhood that led him to fall under the spell of 42-year-old John Allen Muhammad, who has been convicted in one of the shootings. A jury recommended last month that he be sentenced to die.

Answering a question from Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., Stanton Samenow, an Alexandria, Va., psychologist, said, "Mr. Horan, Mr. Malvo knew exactly what he was doing."

He later added that "people have all kinds of hardship. ... They don't all go out and shoot all these people or participate." He also said Malvo engaged in some vicious behavior as a child, including beating a fellow student.

The defense is arguing that Malvo was a vulnerable youth, desperate for a father figure and easily brainwashed by Muhammad. He learned to "zone out" as a child to cope with beatings by his mother, and Muhammad honed that to desensitize Malvo to killing, leading to a dissociative disorder, the defense contends.

But Samenow, who spent about 34 hours with Malvo, described him as "highly intelligent" and not the impressionable youth depicted by defense psychiatrists. He "zoned out" when he wanted to eliminate thoughts and emotions that troubled him, such as killing, Samenow said.

He said Malvo had doubts twice about the shootings - one time that Malvo could not explain and the second when Malvo and Muhammad were visiting Muhammad's relatives in Baton Rouge, La., in August last year, when Muhammad first told Malvo of the sniper plan.

Samenow said Malvo considered running away to live with a friend, "Kenny," whom Malvo described as a "hacker" in Seattle, and had $7,000 to travel there.

While prosecutors are arguing the extortion motive for the killings, the defense has said that other motives existed - including a goal by Muhammad to kill his ex-wife and be reunited with his three children after he was denied custody.

The defense contends that Muhammad believed that he and Malvo, whom he converted to Islam, were called by Allah for a mission that would lead to a revolution and end the oppression of African-Americans. Muhammad planned to use the $10 million to create a utopian society in Canada or another country, the defense contends.

Defense lawyer Michael S. Arif, hammering at Samenow, contended that the psychologist is so well-known for his belief that criminals rationalize their misdeeds that his Web site's concept of the month for November said, "Criminals are readily able to discern right from wrong."

Samenow said that was written some time back. "I don't think I would have it out there for you to grab onto it," he replied.

The versions of the view of his life Malvo gave the prosecution's psychologists differ starkly from what the defense has portrayed. Malvo told prosecution psychologists that corporal punishment is routine in his native Jamaica, and that he understood that his mother, though absent much of the time, was striving for a better life for him. The defense has portrayed her as given to cruel beatings, and deaf to his pain of her leaving him in the care of sometimes-abusive people.

Evan Nelson, a Richmond, Va.-based prosecution psychologist, said Malvo told him that "Muhammad sucked him in by telling him all sorts of wonderful things," and that Malvo later realized that Muhammad considered him expendable - akin to what Malvo has told defense psychiatrists.

And Malvo, though affable and smart, was narcissistic, Nelson told jurors.

"This is a key part of who Lee Boyd Malvo is - a need to feel superior, a need to be in power," Nelson said.

The defense is claiming that a hopelessly brainwashed Malvo falsely confessed to being the shooter in nearly all the sniper shootings around the country when police questioned him in November last year. But the defense, Nelson said, may have brainwashed him as well - telling him that they believe he should return to what they think is his correct identity as a Christian Jamaican.

Nelson offered yet another theory of Malvo's behavior - that of "a vulnerable and manipulative young man" - based in part on letters Malvo wrote from jail in late summer or early fall this year, "after he has been deprogrammed."

He noted advice Malvo gave another inmate in the Fairfax County Detention Center. In handwritten letters full of profanity, he told the inmate, "Pacman," not to draw attention to himself, but to quietly plot his escape, starting with familiarizing himself with the guards and their habits.

"Get a job, study the facility/prison, make a map. Look for security weaknesses. And when you find one, wait for your best chance and leave," Malvo recommended.

"My strategy works for me because my enemy does not know me," Malvo wrote, explaining that he is underestimated. "I play the stupid fool."

Inmates are not allowed to send each other missives. Malvo had to mail the letters - introduced by the prosecution in its one-day rebuttal - to someone who mailed them to "Pacman."

"If you fight them all the time, they will always be looking at you," Malvo wrote in one letter. "But if you never resist, when you do resist, they will be caught bye [sic] surprise, never expected it, wouldn't even dream you were capable of such cruelty, hatred, brains."

"You must be able to sit at the table with your enemy and not let them know that you 'hate there [sic] guts.' The key to achieving this is the ability to mask your emotions."

Malvo also tells of a dream in which a man who is apparently Muhammad ignores him. Malvo writes that he comes upon Muhammad on a bench and that the older man looks him straight in the eye and denies his existence.

As he has appeared throughout the trial, Malvo seems remorseless and unrepentent in the letters.

He writes in one, "I don't know what's going to happen, man, no sweat though. I'm prepared for death, what can be worse?"

Sun staff writer Stephen Kiehl contributed to this article.