Va. judge sentences Malvo to life terms

Sniper shootings coverage
CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Somber and silent to the end, 19- year-old Lee Boyd Malvo was given two life sentences without parole yesterday for his role in the suburban sniper attacks that left 10 dead during three weeks of terror around the nation's capital in October 2002.

Malvo, believed to have been the triggerman in most if not all of the killings, said nothing during the 13-minute hearing and hung his head as sheriff's deputies escorted him from a courtroom packed with relatives of those he shot with a high-powered rifle.

Although Malvo had been convicted in December of capital murder, Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush had no choice but to sentence the Jamaican-born teen-ager to life without parole because the jury did not elect to recommend a death sentence. Malvo's attorney said the once-ruthless sniper is beginning his prison years by working toward a high school diploma and the hope that he can do "good things for people" behind bars.

"He knows he cannot undo the damage, but he knows he can choose which way to live," defense lawyer Craig S. Cooley told the filled courtroom. "Lee knows he has much to face and much to pay for."

Cooley also reiterated to the judge a message that defense lawyers delivered over and over during the six-week trial - the contention that Malvo would not have participated in the murderous rampage "but for the influence of John Muhammad."

Muhammad, 43, considered by prosecutors to be the mastermind of the killings, was sentenced to death Tuesday for the murder of Gaithersburg engineer Dean H. Meyers on Oct. 9, 2002, at gas station near Manassas, Va. Malvo was convicted in the fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin on Oct. 14, 2002, in the parking lot of a Fairfax County Home Depot store.

Prosecutors said during the trials that the two were responsible for a murderous rampage in the Washington area that killed 10, wounded three and left millions of people living in fear. . Muhammad and Malvo are also suspected of eight other shootings, four of them fatal, around the country.

Families of the victims said the sorrow from the killings has brought them together - much to their regret.

"It's a club we did not want to belong to," Victoria Snider said after the sentencing, surrounded by many of the other victims' relatives under a tent outside to shield them from cold rain. Her brother James L. "Sonny" Buchanan Jr. was the first of four people killed the morning of Oct. 3, 2002, in Montgomery County.

She recalled day after day of fear, of killings that "just ripped your heart out" and of knowing that other families were enduring the same kind of anguish.

"The most important thing here is we did not want to see either Muhammad or Malvo re-enter society and take another life," she said, speaking for her family, "and that was accomplished here today."

Others were dissatisfied that Malvo escaped the death penalty. Attorney General John Ashcroft had sent the sniper suspects to Virginia because of its history of executions, giving the state's two most experienced prosecutors first crack at them.

"I don't go see my sister's graveyard," Kwang Im Szuszka blurted through tears, explaining that she weeps so much other relatives won't go with her. Her sister, Hong Im Ballenger, was killed Sept. 23, 2002, in the parking lot of her beauty supply shop in Baton Rouge, La. "They should be together in the death penalty. I am very disappointed."

Bob Meyers, brother of Dean Meyers, said he hopes Malvo will face more trials for the killings. Prosecutors in other jurisdictions have not ruled out the possibility that they will put Malvo on trial for killings in the their jurisdictions; he could face the death penalty in some of those cases.

"More action needs to be taken to address the crimes that were committed by Lee Malvo," he said, adding that he was disturbed by various reports about jurors, including that some felt rushed to reach a sentence or wanted execution but compromised.

Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who in court said he wanted to "point out the absolute egregiousness of this defendant's behavior," said later that he is ready to try Muhammad for Franklin's murder. Horan said that if Muhammad's current lawyers are appointed for a Fairfax County trial, he would hope for proceedings "certainly by the end of the sum-


Horan said there is no reason not to continue with trials in Virginia during Muhammad's appeals, which will take an estimated four to five years, he said.

But whether Malvo can be subject to the death penalty will be up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear a case this fall that could abolish the death sentence for minors. Malvo was 17 at the time of the sniper shootings.

"If the Supreme Court rules that the death penalty is still available for juveniles, I will try Mr. Malvo. I will seek the death penalty," said Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert, who won the death sentence for Muhammad.

But if the nation's highest court knocks down the possibility of execution for anyone younger than 18, only life terms would be possible.

In addition to Virginia prosecutors, those in Louisiana and Alabama are looking to try Malvo and Muhammad. Murder charges are pending in Montgomery County, where six people were killed, but many officials feel Maryland trials are unlikely.

If there is another trial, Malvo's legal team has laid out a defense blueprint. They did not contest his involvement, focusing instead on keeping him alive. They mounted an insanity defense, arguing that a manipulative and charismatic Muhammad turned an emotionally delicate teen-ager into his murderous disciple.

The two met on Antigua, when Malvo was a 15-year-old whose single mother bought fake travel papers from Muhammad and left for the United States. Muhammad soon took the boy to live with him and his own three children who he had kidnapped from his former wife.

In the United States, Muhammad lost custody of his own children. Malvo's lawyers said Muhammad ultimately planned the sniper crimes to kill his former wife, regain the children and then kill the only witness - Malvo.

Yesterday, before leaving the courthouse, Malvo's lawyers filed a notice of appeal.

Malvo and Muhammad's trials were moved to the Tidewater area to find jurors whose daily lives were not affected by the crimes.

One of the Malvo jurors, salesman Doug Keefer, attended the sentencing. He is hoping to write a book about the trial and give part of the proceeds to the Department of Homeland Security.

Four Chesapeake women who sat through nearly every day of the trial as spectators also returned.

"If I didn't show up today, it's like not reading the last chapter of a book," said Shirley Lester, who served on a task force last year that helped map out the city's preparations for the high-profile trial.