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Nastiness, greed said to inspire Malvo

In closing argument, Va. prosecutor rejects insanity defense

By Andrea F. Siegel

Sun Staff

December 17, 2003

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CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- Nastiness and a desire for money -- not insanity -- drove Lee Boyd Malvo to kill person after person in a bloody sniper rampage in the Washington, D.C., area, one of Virginia's top prosecutors told jurors in a closing argument yesterday.

Urging jurors to convict the teen-ager of capital murder, Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said that Malvo knew exactly what he was doing as the junior member of the sniper duo who terrified millions of people last fall.

The snipers demanded $10 million from the government, saying the killings wouldn't stop until the extortion demand was paid.

"They killed all of these people essentially for money, that is why they did it," Horan said. "That's why they started Oct. 3 in the year 2002. They wanted to have enough bodies out there that the government would pay attention to them and pay the money. That belief, as wild, as vicious as it is, was that the government would come around."

Defense attorney Michael S. Arif asked the jury to find the Jamaican youth not guilty because of insanity, arguing that the teen-ager was so brainwashed by convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad that he became a "cult of one" for the older man.

Muhammad was convicted last month; a jury recommended that he be sentenced to death for his role in the killings. Arif stressed to jurors that if they did not believe the insanity defense, they could opt for a first-degree murder conviction, which would spare Malvo's life. The defense team has contended that Malvo was the spotter and not the shooter in all but two killings, neither of which was named in the indictment for which he is standing trial.

Malvo, Arif told the jury, was desensitized by violent movies and video games, programmed with racial hatred and brainwashed into supporting Muhammad's extortion plan.

Muhammad planned to use the money to found a utopian compound in Canada for 140 children who would fight to free oppressed African-Americans.

"The last victim of John Muhammad sits at the defense table today," Arif said, gesturing toward Malvo. "That is the last victim."

Deliberation begins

After listening to three hours of closing arguments by the lawyers, the jury is to begin deliberating today, deciding whether Malvo is guilty of capital murder or first-degree murder, or not guilty by reason of insanity or not guilty in two capital murder counts.

If convicted of capital murder, Malvo faces the possibility that in further deliberations the jury will vote to recommend execution.

Both capital murder charges center on the slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, an Arlington woman gunned down Oct. 14 last year in a Home Depot parking lot in Falls Church. One count accuses Malvo of multiple murders, noting the killing of Gaithersburg engineer Dean Meyers, 53, who was shot at a gas station outside Manassas on Oct. 9.

The second count comes under Virginia's untested anti-terrorism law, charging that Malvo shot Franklin as part of the extortion scheme against the government.

During three weeks in October last year, snipers shot 13 people, killing 10, in the capital region, and they are suspected in three more killings and other crimes around the country during 2002.

With the three alternates dismissed, the 12-person jury consists of six white women, two black women, two white men and two black men. The trial started five weeks ago.

Relatives listen, weep

Relatives of several victims listened to the closing arguments, some weeping as the prosecution put victims' photos and a transcript from Malvo's confession on a large screen while the audiotape of Malvo boasting and laughing about the crimes played.

Malvo could be heard making lawnmower noises as he laughed about the way 39-year-old James "Sonny" Buchanan fell as he was shot mowing a lawn Oct. 3 in Rockville.

Horan told jurors that common sense and "overwhelming" evidence would tell them that Malvo pulled the trigger in the shootings of Franklin, Meyers and others in the Washington area. In confessions to police, he said, Malvo offered information only the snipers were aware of, and his DNA was found on the Bushmaster rifle used in the killings.

In Franklin's shooting, Horan said, only the killer would know that parking-deck pillars framed the shot -- a detail that Malvo mentioned to investigators.

And in the Oct. 3 shooting of Pascal Charlot, 72, on a Washington street, Malvo offered similar first-hand insights.

"Only the shooter would know where [the victim] got hit and how he went down," Horan said of the Charlot killing. "The spotter would be looking for witnesses."

Horan scoffed at the defense psychiatrists and psychologists, who testified that Malvo could not discern right from wrong. They also testified that Malvo, after some time, told them he was the spotter in the Franklin and Meyers shootings as well as in almost all the rest of them. In two, he told psychiatrists, he was the shooter.

"If you believe the mental health experts the defense presented, they are telling you he's insane, he doesn't know right from wrong, he doesn't know the nature, consequences and character of his acts, but believe him when he said he was the spotter. Believe this insane man when he said he was the spotter?" Horan said.

Horan read from letters Malvo sent to a fellow inmate at the Fairfax County Detention Center in late summer or fall -- at least two months after defense experts said he had made a breakthrough in returning to his old self. Malvo advises the inmate, dubbed "Pacman," how to plot a surprise escape by being outwardly compliant while making mental note of security weaknesses and then grabbing an opportunity.

In the handwritten letters, which were to go into the deliberation room with the jurors, Malvo spews profanity, a sense of superiority and a strategy that being seen as a "fool" gives him an edge.

But Arif argued that Malvo's confessions to police were "bull." He said Malvo assumed blame because of the dissociated disorder he suffered because of brainwashing by Muhammad.