Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Home  >  Topics  >  Investigations

December 18, 2003
PrintCommentRSS

Beltway Sniper Malvo Found Guilty of Capital Murder

By Timothy Dwyer, The Washington Post

CHESAPEAKE, Va., Dec.18 -- Lee Boyd Malvo was found guilty of two counts of capital murder Thursday afternoon for his role in the sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington area last October.

Malvo, 18, also was convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. They jury deliberated nearly two full days before reaching a verdict.

The charges centered on the slaying of Linda Franklin, who was killed with a single shot to her head while she loaded packages in her car at a Home Depot store in the Seven Corners area of Falls Church on Oct. 14, 2002.

Malvo sat with his forearms resting on the defense table, staring straight ahead as the verdicts were read, showing no emotion.

Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush asked the jurors to return Friday to begin the penalty phase of the trial. They will then decide whether Malvo is given a death sentence or be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The jury apparently rejected the defense team's arguments that Malvo, who had often been left for extended periods by his parents in his native Jamaica and then Antigua, was brainwashed by his older mentor, John Allen Muhammad. Muhammad was convicted last month and sentenced to death for the Oct. 9, 2002, shooting death of Dean H. Meyers at a gas station in Manassas. Muhammad's indoctrination of Malvo was so complete, the defense argued in court, that the teenager could no longer tell right from wrong and was, therefore, insane.

The prosecution told the jury that Malvo was not mentally ill and was a willing participant in the sniper murders.

The jury of eight women and four men listened to 18 days of testimony in the case. The defense and prosecution presented nearly 150 witnesses, some of whom testified for hours and others for just a few minutes.

Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. told the jury during his closing argument that the trial was his longest in 37 years as a prosecutor. It was also unusual -- most of the evidence against Malvo, including the Bushmaster rifle used in the shootings, was unavailable to Horan because it was in Virginia Beach for Muhammad's capital murder trial.

The trial was moved from Fairfax County to Chesapeake by Roush because of concerns that potential jurors in Northern Virginia were too personally affected by the shootings to be impartial.

Horan called his first witness in the case about five weeks ago, a refrigerator repairman who spotted Malvo and Muhammad's car, the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, about 3:30 a.m. on Oct. 24, 2002, at a rest area in rural Frederick County, Md. While the repairman, Whitney Donahue, used a cell phone to dial 911, Malvo and Muhammad slept in the car.

Charles Pierce, an FBI agent, described how a SWAT team swooped in on the Caprice, broke out two windows and found Malvo and Muhammad so soundly asleep that the exploding glass did not wake them. They roused them and arrested them, ending one of the largest law enforcement investigations in the Washington region's history.

The Caprice, which the jurors inspected during the trial, was a treasure chest of evidence. The Bushmaster rifle was discovered in the trunk. The car also held a laptop computer, stolen from Paul J. LaRuffa, 55, after he was shot and wounded outside his restaurant on Oct. 5, 2002. The laptop was used to identify target areas and plot escape routes.

Dan McGill, a Montgomery County Police forensic specialist, testified that there was a GPS device found in the car and that the automobile had been reconfigured to allow access from the back seat to the trunk, where the Bushmaster was discovered suspended from a bungi cord. A glove had been stuffed into a hole above the rear license plate, believed to be used as a portal to fire the weapon. Horan referred to the altered Caprice as a "killing machine."

Franklin's husband, William, testified for about 10 minutes. In a quiet voice, he described to the jury how he and his wife were trying to fit a package of long shelves into their car in the parking lot.

Franklin said he changed positions with his wife, moving from the rear to the passenger side of he car, when he heard a loud noise. He said he felt something hit his face and when he looked at his wife, she was down on the ground. He said he walked over to her and it was obvious that she had been shot in the head.

Franklin's frantic 911 call was not played for the jury after the defense objected that it was prejudicial. Franklin has been in the courtroom throughout the trial.

On the second day of testimony Horan called 21 witnesses, who described Oct. 3, 2002, when five people were murdered by sniper shots in about 14 hours. The first four murders happened in the span of just over two hours.

Prosecutors called their star witness, Fairfax County Police homicide detective June Boyle, on the fifth day of their case. The jury heard four tapes of Boyle's interview with Malvo.

The defense challenged the tape recordings and transcript of the interviews, saying that Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, did not have an attorney, parent or guardian present when he was interviewed. Judge Roush denied the defense request to keep the tapes out of evidence.

On the tapes, Malvo sounded confident and sometimes even bragged about his shooting skills. He told Boyle about details of the sniper killings and the plan to instill so much chaos in the Washington region that the government would have to declare martial law to stop the murders.

In the interviews, which were secretly taped, investigators got Malvo to talk about how he picked targets, locations and what his reaction was to shooting people. When he was asked if he ever felt bad about killing anyone, he quickly replied, "No.'

Referring to the shooting of Franklin, Malvo was recorded saying that, from the point where he took the shot, he could see the entire parking lot of the store. "People came with their children," he said. "People walked away, people came pushing lumber, people came picking up carts, all kinds of stuff."

Boyle asked him if Franklin was with anyone in the parking lot. "Yes. Her husband," he replied. "He is moving too and from too much, so the thing was the sniper, you could hit him but you know you won't get the effect you want if you are looking for a certain effect. Why, why waste, why waste it, if you're going to do it, be good at it, don't be sloppy."

Although Malvo initially confessed to Boyle during the interview on Nov. 7, 2002, he later recanted and told defense mental health experts that he was the spotter in 12 of the 13 Washington area shootings. Malvo told the mental health experts that Muhammad was the triggerman in all but the final sniper shooting -- Conrad E. Johnson on Oct. 22, 2002.

Malvo told Boyle that he thought he would get the death penalty. "It doesn't scare you?" Boyle asked. "You want to hang me, okay, poke me, shock me, just gonna last for 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes, then you're dead," Malvo replied.

The court-appointed attorneys for Malvo began their defense of the teenage sniper suspect by calling Malvo's father, Leslie Malvo, to the witness stand. He described his "loving" relationship with his son and told the jury that Malvo's mother, Una James, took the boy away from him when his son was 5 years old.

Several witnesses from Jamaica described the peripatetic existence of Malvo. His mother moved him frequently, and often left him to live with friends, relatives and strangers. He was bullied at school by older and bigger boys, witnesses testified.

Malvo was described as an obedient and intelligent boy by his teachers. Family members and friends said Malvo's mother used to beat him. She once beat him after he threatened to hang himself with a sheet from a tree limb if she moved him again.

The defense tracked Malvo's movements from Jamaica, to Antigua, where he first met Muhammad. Once Muhammad met Malvo, the indoctrination, or brainwashing began, the defense asserted. By the late summer of 2002, Muhammad had trained Malvo to shoot the Bushmaster rifle and took him on training missions in Washington State.

Muhammad and Malvo visited the family of Muhammad's first wife in Baton Rouge, La., in August of 2002, according to testimony from defense witnesses. After that visit, Malvo wrote a letter to LaToria Williams, the niece of Muhammad's first wife, telling her that he was a "walking time bomb waiting to explode."

The prosecution objected to the letter being introduced as evidence and Roush sustained the objection, blocking the letter from going to the jury. A copy of the letter appeared in The Washington Post the next day, prompting the prosecution to ask the judge to issue a gag order, citing the daily press conferences that were being held by the defense team each day. Judge Roush issued the gag order and put an end the press conferences.

Defense attorneys placed at the heart of their case the testimony of mental health experts, hoping they could convince the jury that Malvo was brainwashed by Muhammad to the extent that he could no longer tell right from wrong and was, therefore, insane.

Diane H. Schetky, a Maine based forensic psychiatrist, told the jury that Malvo was mentally ill at the time of the sniper shootings and unable to tell right from wrong. Schetky, who specializes in adolescent psychiatry, said that Malvo had a "pathological loyalty" to Muhammad.

"He was like a puppet in his hands," she said.

Schetky, who interviewed Malvo twice this fall at the Fairfax County Jail, said Malvo is still suffering from disassociate disorder. "We see and hear him today," she said, referring to Malvo sitting at the defense table. "This does not look like somebody who is facing horrendous charges," she said. "He is sitting there doodling like a child in preschool."

As she spoke, Malvo alternately looked at her and then down at a writing tablet, apparently sketching a picture.

A second defense mental health expert also testified that Malvo was mentally ill at the time of the shootings. Once the defense rested, the prosecution called four rebuttal witnesses, including two mental health experts who testified that Malvo was not mentally ill and that he knew right from wrong at the time of the shootings.

Among the last pieces of evidence introduced by the prosecution were three letters written by Malvo to an inmate at the Fairfax County jail, who was only identified as Pacman. The letters contained passages that indicated Malvo would try to escape from prison if he was ever placed in with other inmates rather than in solitary confinement.

Horan, waving the letters in front of the jury during his closing argument, said that the letters revealed the "real Malvo," the one that methodically planned and carried out the sniper murder of Linda Franklin and the other D.C. sniper victims.






PoliceOne Offers

Sponsored by

P1 on Facebook

Connect with PoliceOne

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google

Get the #1 Police eNewsletter

Police Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
See Sample