"Here, not only do you have him saying, 'Yes, I did it,' but you have those confessions which verged on bragging and were cavalier," said Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor. "The attempt to get out of that was his psychiatrists' word against the government, and he did not portray himself as a person who the jury would want to believe."

Virginia standards

To win an insanity acquittal in Virginia, defendants must show that their mental disease made it impossible for them to know the nature, character and consequences of their act, that they were unable to distinguish right from wrong, or that they were unable to resist the impulse to commit a crime.

"There are defense attorneys in Virginia that can go their entire career without ever trying an insanity defense case," said Greenspun, Muhammad's lawyer. He noted that's for good reason: "The public thinks if you're found not guilty by reason of insanity, you walk out on the street the next day."

So while Malvo's lawyers might never have expected to win an insanity acquittal, the tactic at least allowed them to make the trial as much about the life of their client as it was about the death of FBI analyst Linda Franklin.

"It expanded the playing field of what they could present," said Millemann, of the University of Maryland. "I think that they really got a broader scope of evidence in during the guilt-innocence phase than they normally would have in the sentencing phase."

Mitigation evidence

That fact did not go unnoticed during the trial. Lead prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. objected during the testimony of defense social worker Carmeta V. Albarus, saying her testimony about Malvo's troubled mind was evidence that should be left to the trial's sentencing phase.

'That might be fine for the mitigation case," Horan said. "We're here for insanity at the time of he act. They're trying to use mitigation evidence for an insanity issue."

One of the nation's most widely respected capital defense lawyers, Kevin McNally, said the jury's rejection of the insanity defense does not mean that jurors won't be willing to consider some of the same evidence - that Malvo was so young, for instance, or that he was under the control of Muhammad - in weighing his sentence.

"The fact that a lot of the mitigation was front-loaded doesn't mean it was rejected, and it doesn't mean it needs to be repeated," said McNally, of Frankfort, Ky.

Peter Greenspun, Muhammad's lawyer, saw the insanity defense failure in another light.

"If we are a society that is going to be so inhuman as to lock away those who are ill, if that's where our society is, then there's a lot of rethinking that needs to be done," he said.