CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Crying as he spoke wistfully of an angelic tyke in Jamaica, the father of teen-age sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo testified that the last time he saw his son, the boy was a polite, loving child doing well in school.
"Lee was my pride son. I love him very much," Leslie Malvo testified, mostly through an interpreter. His words were frequently interrupted as he wept into a handkerchief about his "beautiful, handsome, obedient, manageable" child.
Leslie Malvo, the first defense witness, laid the groundwork for the 60 or so defense witnesses jurors will hear. Defense attorneys are aiming to paint a portrait of a sweet child whose troubled and unstable background left him vulnerable to a charismatic older man and father figure, John Allen Muhammad.
The elder Malvo testified - as the beginning of an insanity defense for his son - on the day that a Virginia Beach jury recommended the death penalty for Muhammad, the 42-year-old man Malvo has referred to as his father and who Malvo's lawyers contend turned the youth into a killer.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. showed little patience yesterday for a display of Malvo's baby pictures and recollections of his upbringing. Repeatedly, he asked what any of it had to do with killing people last year in the Washington area and elsewhere.
Leslie Malvo said he and his common-law wife, Una James, had a pleasant life raising their son. When Malvo was very young, he was a mason while his wife was learning dressmaking.
He recalled how much his toddler loved ice cream and how sometimes he bought his son a second cone when the first one melted.
"Lee would hold the ice cream this way, and it would drain down his arm," Leslie Malvo said.
It was one of the few moments when Lee Malvo showed emotion, appearing to chuckle at his father's recollection.
Leslie Malvo said he began working for months at a time in the Cayman Islands, where his skilled labor earned him good money. He saved $18,000. But when Lee was about 5, the elder Malvo came home to an empty house.
"I came from Grand Cayman to buy a house, to marry Una James and have a nice life," he said.
He searched the Kingston, Jamaica, region and found James, who accused him of keeping a girlfriend, which he denied.
Within days, he had to return to the Caymans and after that saw his son only sporadically because James booted him out of their son's life, he testified. He said Lee wanted to go to the Caymans with him but that he could not bring his son on his work permit.
When he met up with Lee on a Kingston street, his son was about 10, and he had not seen him in 3 years. "I hugged him and kissed him on his jaw," he recalled. But the boy said his mother would "kill me with spankings" if he told his father where he lived.
That was eight years ago. The next time he saw his son was Saturday, in the Chesapeake, Va., jail, where lawyers said the two met for an hour and a half.
Appearing frail as he walked out of the courtroom, Leslie Malvo kept looking back at his son, who faces the possibility of execution.
Malvo's mother is not expected to testify at the trial.
The 18-year-old is charged with two counts of capital murder in the fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, an FBI analyst felled Oct. 14 last year in the parking lot of a Home Depot near Falls Church. One count accuses Malvo of multiple killings within three years, and the other, under Virginia's new anti-terrorism law, of killing Franklin in a scheme to extort $10 million from the government.
If convicted of either count, he faces the possibility of execution or life in prison without parole. His lawyers said yesterday that they had not told him about the verdict in the Muhammad trial.
During the three weeks last fall when 13 people were shot, 10 of them fatally, area residents lived in such fear that they zig-zagged as they ran through parking lots and schools kept students indoors during recess.
Also testifying yesterday were a cousin with whom Lee Malvo lived for about six months while his mother worked on another Caribbean island and a friend of the family.
Both depicted Malvo as a loving child, but the cousin, Romello Semone Powell, said that when Lee lived with her, he spoke fearfully about his mother and detailed ruthless beatings for minor infractions.
Earlier yesterday, prosecutors rested their main case. In six days of testimony, the prosecution called more than 80 witnesses and showed the nine-woman, seven-man jury more than 200 items of evidence.
Craig S. Cooley, one of Malvo's lead defense lawyers, tried to discredit the Nov. 7, 2002, confession that Malvo gave to a Fairfax County police detective and an FBI agent, in which he laughs as he details shooting after shooting. Cooley hammered at Detective June Boyle for taping the confession surreptitiously and for speaking to the youth at length before starting to tape.
Much of the fifth tape, played yesterday, was inaudible, but Malvo, then 17, can be heard saying, "We practiced this," in an apparent reference to what to say if captured. He mentioned his training and said he probably could train Boyle to be part of a spotter-shooter sniper team.