CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Defense lawyer Craig S. Cooley stood before the jurors who will decide a sentence for Lee Boyd Malvo and made a final plea yesterday for the convicted sniper's life, distilling three weeks of evidence into 30 minutes of eloquence. Then, after the jury left the courtroom to begin its work, Cooley sat down and sobbed.
Jurors did not reach a decision on a sentence yesterday in Malvo's trial, which has elicited tears from jurors, spectators, reporters and now the lawyers themselves. If it seemed the emotion ran high Friday - when relatives of victims gave anguished testimony - it did not let up yesterday when Cooley and prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. delivered powerful closing arguments.
Both are skilled trial lawyers who are not used to losing. Horan is Virginia's longest-serving prosecutor, known for a spare style that gets results. Cooley, a silver-haired Southern gentleman, has handled 60 capital cases, and only two have resulted in executions.
Cooley had two props yesterday - a stone he held in his hand and Malvo himself.
During his closing, Cooley gripped the stone and told the jury that in ancient times justice was participatory, with jurors stoning those they had sentenced to death. And later Cooley placed his hand on Malvo's shoulder, as a father would his son, and asked the jurors to show "compassion and love."
"Every person, certainly every child, has good within him," Cooley said to the jury of eight women and four men, which will resume sentencing deliberations today.
Horan had his own props - photographs of those who lost their lives to the snipers. As Horan read the names and showed the pictures of each victim, he asked for justice for each of them. He also played tapes of Malvo's confessions, interspersing Malvo's incriminating words, which were projected onto a large screen, with horrible autopsy and crime scene photos.
The prosecutor reminded jurors of the victim-impact testimony and of the losses suffered. He reminded them of James "Sonny" Buchanan, killed while riding his lawnmower, a man who used to sit with his mother on her porch in rocking chairs.
"She used to talk to her son for hours in those rocking chairs," Horan said. "That mother now sits in one of those rocking chairs, waiting for a son who will never come home. That's vileness. That's vileness."
Horan showed the picture of Linda Franklin lying in the parking lot of a Northern Virginia Home Depot, half her face blown away by a sniper's bullet. The photograph lingered on a large video screen in the courtroom for 10 seconds that felt like hours. And then Horan played tapes of Malvo laughing about that killing and others, which Malvo said were done to force the government into paying $10 million.
Calling for a death sentence, Horan urged jurors to find that Malvo's crimes were "wantonly vile," and that the youth who was 17 when Franklin was slain will be a threat to society. They need find only one of those criteria to sentence him to death, though they can find both and still sentence him to life without parole.
Horan reminded jurors that Malvo tried to escape through a police-station ceiling Oct. 24 last year, the day he was arrested, and that in letters in August or September to a fellow Fairfax County Detention Center inmate, he vowed to "die trying" to escape.
He said Malvo is remorseless: "You listened to the evidence. You heard about him sobbing and crying on different occasions. But he is crying for himself. He is not crying for all the people he killed."
"Remorse? They are going to have to invent it for you to find it," Horan said.
Cooley harped on Malvo's tender age and an unbringing marked by abandonment and abuse by his mother that left him vulnerable to being turned into a murderous disciple of John Allen Muhammad, who has been convicted of similar charges and sentenced to die.
Leslie Malvo, Malvo's father, took the stand earlier in the day to describe his son's early life. The Jamaican stonemason wept openly as he recalled happy times of buying grape-nut ice cream for his toddler son and flying toy propeller airplanes with him. He spoke of a little boy greeting him with a plea for kisses when he came home from work.
"He would say, 'Daddy if I don't kiss you we won't be friends,'" Leslie Malvo said.
But that was before Malvo's mother took away their son, hiding him so that he would rarely see his father.
When it was Cooley's turn for closing arguments, he gathered his notes and placed them on a lectern a few feet from the jury box, leaning in to beg for Malvo's life. Perhaps because he had little to work with in this case - Malvo has acknowledged participating in the crimes - Cooley didn't mention his client's name for 10 minutes, instead speaking as a parent worried about who his children have as friends.
"We cannot write or paint our own histories in the first person," Cooley said. "Our minds and our hearts are inevitably entwined with those around us - those we either fear or love or admire or fall prey to. So it is with us and so it is with Lee Malvo."
Cooley continued to speak in generalities, talking about how the brains of teen-agers are not fully developed, and that's why they are not afforded certain rights, such as drinking. He talked about how society "force feeds violence upon children" and doesn't teach the value of compassion and mercy.
The defense attorney quoted civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred. Only love can do that." And he invoked Christmas and the words of the hymn "Silent Night," which promises redeeming grace.
And then Cooley gripped the rock in his hand and offered a biblical image. He said that long ago juries would arm themselves with stones and hurl them at those who had been sentenced to death. And after the killing, the jurors would retrieve their stones, stained with the blood of the dead.
"You are not holding a stone, but you can feel the weight of the stone," Cooley said, summoning thoughts of Old Testament justice. "The stone has no humanity. It is unfeeling, ungiving. The stone has no compassion and once it has been cast it has no ability to temper its impact. And after you cast it, you can feel on your fingertips the grit of the stone and you know you're thrown it.
"The commonwealth," Cooley said, "urges you to kill, to stain yourself in the blood of this child. The prosecution challenges you to take up the stone. Your humanity challenges you to let this stone lie."
But Horan, who had the final word of the trial in his rebuttal to Cooley's closing, quickly told jurors that he was asking for justice, not vengeance.
Horan showed the pictures of the victims and read their names in a solemn recitation that evoked the news conference on Oct. 24, 2002 - when authorities in Rockville announced the arrest of Malvo and his accomplice, Muhammad, and then read the victims' names in the cold rain.
Speaking of the victims, the prosecutor said, "They have one thing in common. All of those people whose picture you just saw are all dead, and they're all dead at the hand of this defendant. No child, this defendant."
Horan matched Cooley's Martin Luther King Jr. quote with words from the author Robert Louis Stevenson, who said that in each of us two natures are at war- good and evil - and one of them must conquer. Stevenson said that we each have the power to choose what we most want to be.
Then Horan applied that to this case and to Lee Malvo: "He choose to kill without compunction, without compassion. He chose to kill defenseless human beings who were no threat to him, no bother to him. Members of the jury, we don't want vengeance. We want justice and we ask you for it."
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun