Lee Boyd Malvo is claiming that he and fellow Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad lined up co-conspirators to broaden the campaign of violence that paralyzed the Washington region eight years ago, but that the collaborators backed away, according to a television interview.
Malvo also claimed responsibility for 42 shootings, many more than he and Muhammad had been linked to, according to a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed the man, now 25.
The revelations were greeted skeptically by lawyers involved in the case that shook the region in 2002.
The claim of 42 shootings "doesn't seem very plausible," said Katherine Winfree, who prosecuted Muhammad in Montgomery County in 2006 and spent hours interviewing Malvo before he testified against his one-time father figure.
Winfree also doubts that the pair had collaborators. "I would just find it very surprising if there were other people actually involved in the planning and going to participate in carrying out these multiple shootings," she said.
Until now, Malvo and Muhammad had been linked to as many as 27 shootings and 17 deaths nationwide, according to a tally by the Associated Press. Much of that blood was shed during a rash of killings in the Washington area in October 2002 that left 10 dead and three wounded. Malvo is serving a life sentence in Virginia; Muhammad was executed there last year.
The new claims came to light in interviews with actor William Shatner for a show that aired Thursday night on the A&E network. But a copy of the script provided by the network shows that Malvo, who has lied before to shift responsibility for the crimes from Muhammad to himself, initially denied outside involvement.
"Lee, was there anybody else involved?" Shatner asked him in a telephone interview. "Were there any co-conspirators?"
"Uh, no," Malvo replied, speaking from prison.
Shatner reminded Malvo that he had told his psychiatrist that there were co-conspirators.
"There were two others," Malvo said. "There were two other people who were supposed to be involved. But in the end, they end up backing out." One, he said, was killed by Muhammad.
The FBI declined to comment on Malvo's claims, according to the Associated Press.
Malvo also told Shatner that "there was supposed to be three to four snipers with silenced weapons, silenced rifles, and in this way you could do a lot more damage along the entire Eastern Seaboard."
Shatner, best known for his role in "Star Trek," acknowledged on camera the lack of concrete information. "We were not able to ascertain the identity of any co-conspirator and acknowledge the inconsistencies in Malvo's accounts," he said.
The show, "Confessions of the D.C. Sniper with William Shatner: An Aftermath Special," generated considerable buzz Thursday, aided by an interview that Shatner gave to ABC's "Good Morning America."
Defense attorney Jonathan Sheldon, who represented Muhammad, said: "I think this is sort of a ratings thing. Were there other people who knew of these shootings and were supporting them in some ways? I think it's really, really highly unlikely."
Muhammad and Malvo had obtained a car and guns from others, but to call those people co-conspirators unfairly suggests that they bear blame for the crimes, Sheldon said.
Sheldon questioned the number of shootings mentioned by Malvo but said it is not implausible that the pair committed more than they were accused of. He said the FBI approached him before Muhammad's execution date in November, asking him to speak to his client about unsolved murders.
"They were talking about a few individual shootings," Sheldon recalled, adding that they mentioned cases in Arizona and Florida. But Muhammad refused to acknowledge any role in any crimes, Sheldon said, including six fatal shootings in Maryland.
On the show forensic psychiatrist Dr. Neil Blumberg shared a conversation he had with Malvo: "Lee told me that there were approximately 42 shootings that he and Muhammad engaged in, but it actually appears to have been considerably more than that. Prior to arriving in the D.C. area, Lee and Muhammad traveled all over the country, robbing people, shooting people, killing people."
Blumberg added, "On average, they were shooting people at least three to six times a month."
When Shatner asked Malvo directly about other shootings, he answered: "Well ... for example, there was, uh, two in Arizona, Florida, Texas, Washington State, Alabama, uh, Georgia, Mississippi."
Winfree, now Maryland's chief deputy attorney general, was interviewed for the show and appears on camera. According to a transcript, she discussed how Malvo confessed to her in 2006 that four years earlier he had killed 60-year-old Jerry Taylor on a golf course in Arizona.
Shatner picks up the thread: "He confirmed killing Taylor and later confessed to the Tucson police. He also admitted shooting Albert Mychlezyck who survived, John Gaeta in Hammond, La., and a case in Texas."
Malvo and Muhammad stood trial for murder only in Virginia and Maryland.
But Winfree said Thursday that she doubts the 42 figure.
"If people had unsolved shootings they wanted to close, it seems a lot more of those would have been found out," she said. "I just really question the accuracy of that big number being quoted now."
When she interviewed Malvo in 2006, he had already been sentenced to life in prison; Muhammad had been condemned to die. She said that after escaping Muhammad's controlling influence, Malvo finally seemed eager to unburden himself and tell all.
"My impression is, he was using it as a catharsis," Winfree said. "He wanted to come clean, to be able to help law enforcement close cases. He wanted families to know what had happened to their loved one. He wanted to make things as right as he possibly could."
Malvo had hoped to be moved to a different prison, she said, so he had an incentive "to be as expansive as he could."
"Yet, we never heard about co-conspirators or a number as high as 42," she said. "I don't know what his motivation is now. It's got to be pretty boring in prison when you know you're never getting out."