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Jury convicts Malvo in sniper shootings

Teen-ager's defense of insanity rejected after 13 hours of deliberations; 'Extremely pleased with verdict'; Jurors to return today to begin penalty phase of capital murder trial

By Andrea F. Siegel

Sun Staff

December 19, 2003

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CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Rejecting the defense claim that Lee Boyd Malvo was insane after a former Army soldier transformed him into a dispassionate killer, a jury convicted the teen-ager of capital murder yesterday in connection with last fall's sniper assaults that left 10 dead in the Washington area and millions living in fear.

Jurors deliberated about 13 hours over two days before emerging - some red-eyed - for the reading of their decision to convict Malvo, 18, of two counts of capital murder. Although the charges related to the fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, an FBI analyst who was killed outside a Home Depot store near Falls Church on Oct. 14, 2002, prosecutors had introduced evidence during the trial of 10 other murders they believe Malvo committed in the Washington area and elsewhere.

Malvo, his arms folded in front of him on the defense table, slumped slightly but remained stone-faced as the verdict was announced in the hushed courtroom. The convictions make him eligible for the death penalty - the sentence a jury recommended last month for co-defendant John Allen Muhammad.

The second phase of the trial begins today. Prosecutors, bolstered by testimony from victims' relatives, will be seeking the death penalty. The defense, which is bringing in people from Malvo's childhood in the Caribbean to testify, will ask jurors to give Malvo life in prison without parole.

Relatives of some of the victims killed in the sniper siege appeared somber and relieved yesterday, as if they had been waiting for weeks to exhale. Franklin's daughter, Katrina Hannum, left the courtroom teary-eyed. Ted Franklin, who witnessed his wife's murder, showed a hint of satisfaction on his face.

Bob Meyers, brother of sniper murder victim Dean H. Meyers, was the sole relative to speak after walking out of court.

"We are extremely pleased with their verdict," he said, adding that his family believes "justice has been served."

Five days before Franklin's murder, Dean Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg was shot in the head when he stopped to pump gas near Manassas, Va.

Lawyers in the case said nothing, bound by a gag order issued by Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush.

The defense team failed to persuade the jury of eight women and four men to find Malvo not guilty due to insanity at the time of the crimes, a defense legal experts said was a long shot more realistically aimed at setting the stage for a push during sentencing to spare Malvo's life.

The jury also rejected the defense's fall-back request to find Malvo guilty of first-degree murder - a conviction that would have spared him the possibility of a death sentence.

Malvo's attorneys argued that Muhammad, 42, crushed Malvo's ability to discern right from wrong through brainwashing. Muhammad, they said, turned a vulnerable adolescent into a murderous soldier.

But jurors held Malvo responsible for his actions under two capital counts: that Franklin's killing was one of multiple murders he committed and, under Virginia's untested anti-terrorism law, that it was done in a scheme to intimidate the government into complying with a $10 million extortion request to halt the shootings.

In a presentation of more than 80 witnesses, Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. contended that Malvo shot Franklin, Meyers and other victims, and knew what he was doing as part of a murderous duo that killed at random for money.

'Overwhelming problem'

Legal experts said Malvo's confession and cavalier attitude about the killings probably weighed heavily against him.

"I thought the defense did a phenomenal job," said law professor Michael Greenberger of the University of Maryland. "But the confessions were an overwhelming problem for Malvo. The jury heard him laughing about the shootings."

While the defense team's psychiatric testimony helped it regain some lost ground, Greenberger said, letters that Malvo wrote in late summer or early fall to a fellow inmate at the Fairfax County Detention Center - three or more months after defense lawyers contended that Malvo was returning to his "real" self - packed a wallop.

In them, Malvo advised an inmate referred to as "Pacman" how to plot an escape. Malvo also told him that he plays a "fool" outwardly while scheming privately.

"My strategy works for me because my enemy does not know me," Malvo wrote.

The five-lawyer defense team contended that Malvo suffered from a "dissociative disorder" brought on by Muhammad's brainwashing. In it, the Jamaican youth lost his identity, suppressed his emotions and learned to separate his thoughts, actions and feelings.

Calling his client "John Muhammad Jr.," defense lawyer Michael S. Arif told jurors in closing arguments Tuesday that Malvo "was perfectly programmed" to think, believe and act the way Muhammad wanted.

"Right was what John Muhammad said it was. Wrong was what John Muhammad said it was," Arif told jurors.

Many defense witnesses

Malvo did not testify, but with more than 70 witnesses, the defense wove a woeful tapestry of Malvo's life and the mission he and Muhammad were on. It depicted him as a child chronically uprooted by a mother who severely beat him but mostly left him for others to raise.

Desperate for a father figure, adult attention and a stable home, Malvo was easy prey for Muhammad, who sold Malvo's mother fake documents in Antigua that enabled her to reach the United States. Muhammad took Malvo into his home in Antigua in 2001.

Muhammad imposed a strict diet and exercise regimen on Malvo, taught him to shoot, primed him on violent films and video games, and filled him with anti-white and anti-American ideas, mental health experts testified for the defense.

Muhammad's goals, they testified, were to be reunited with the three children he lost in a bitter custody battle, to get the government to pay $10 million that he would use to establish a utopian compound in Canada with 140 children, and, in a mission he saw as a calling from Allah, to free oppressed African-Americans.

The mental health experts contended that Malvo had misgivings about the shooting plan, but by then his identity was merged with that of the man he called his "father."

But Horan pointed to evidence that jurors evidently found compelling - Malvo's DNA on the Bushmaster rifle linked to the killings on just the spots where the shooter's would be, Malvo's fingerprints and DNA at crime scenes, his handwriting on an extortion demand note, his voice on a taped call to police, and that same voice bragging in a confession to police about his shooting prowess while snickering about the deaths. And they saw the Chevrolet Caprice that Malvo and Muhammad were arrested in, with its sniper's lair in the trunk and gun port above the license plate.

Horan argued that Malvo and Muhammad "killed all of these people essentially for money, that is why they did it. 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," he said. "That belief, as wild, as vicious as it is, was that the government would come around."

In the capital murder count under the anti-terrorism law, prosecutors had to show only that Malvo was involved in the planning and killing, not necessarily that he was the shooter. That is a lower level of involvement than in the multiple-murder count.

Horan, in his closing argument, dismissed the "mental health crowd," which he said offered explanations that made no sense, such as Malvo recanting his confession to police and instead maintaining that he was the spotter most of the time and shot only two people - both of whom, Horan said, were killed in states that do not allow people who committed murder as juveniles to be put to death.

Malvo was 17 during the 13 Washington-area shootings that include three survivors. He and Muhammad are suspected in a about 21 shootings around the country, 14 of which were fatal.

"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 argued.

Malvo was also convicted of a weapons violation, which carries a three-year prison term.

911 tape is expected

Today, jurors will begin the 25th day of a trial that started with jury selection Nov. 10. Over the defense's objection, the prosecution will be allowed to call relatives of all of the people it believes were Malvo's victims. A haunting tape of a 911 call that Ted Franklin made after his wife was shot - which was not allowed as evidence earlier in the trial - is likely to come before the jury as well as more about Malvo's letters from jail.

Virginia is one of a minority of states that allows the execution of killers who were under the age of 18 when they committed murder. Attorney General John Ashcroft sent both Malvo and Muhammad's first trials, for deaths in Fairfax and Prince William counties, to Virginia, which ranks second to Texas in the number of murder defendants executed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Four of them killed when they were juveniles.