12/09/2003

Psychologist: Malvo Was Spotter, Not Shooter

BY MATTHEW BARAKAT, The Associated Press

CHESAPEAKE, Virginia (AP) -- Lee Boyd Malvo was the spotter -- not the shooter -- in all but one of last year's sniper killings, Malvo told a psychologist, contradicting the confession he gave to police.

Malvo blamed himself for the arrest of sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad, and felt compelled to take the blame for the sniper rampage, psychologist Dewey Cornell testified Monday at Malvo's trial.

Malvo's confession -- in which he claimed he was the shooter in all of last year's sniper shootings in metropolitan Washington that left 10 dead -- was "an attempt to sacrifice himself and claim credit to spare Mr. Muhammad," said Cornell, of the University of Virginia.

"He felt responsible for their being caught by falling asleep, and he blamed himself for the failure of their mission," Cornell said. Malvo and Muhammad were arrested while sleeping in a car at a highway rest stop in Maryland.

Malvo is presenting an insanity defense to capital murder charges in the Oct. 14, 2002, slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside a Home Depot store. The defense claims he was brainwashed by Muhammad and could no longer tell right from wrong.

Cornell said that after Malvo had been indoctrinated by Muhammad, "he believed what he was doing was right and that John Muhammad was a chosen person of Allah."

Cornell diagnosed Malvo with a dissociative disorder, a form of mental illness in which a person loses touch with reality and his own identity becomes distorted. Cornell gave no opinion on whether the mental disease rose to the level of insanity.

"This was a very unusual, rare case," he said.

Prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. expressed skepticism about the diagnosis, saying that a dissociative disorder from brainwashing is poorly defined in the medical literature.

While Malvo's lawyers admit he took part in the killings, they have disputed that he was the triggerman. If the jury rejects the insanity defense but concludes that the government could not prove Malvo was the triggerman, it may be more difficult to obtain a death penalty under Virginia law.

Cornell said Muhammad and Malvo often discussed right and wrong, and Muhammad told him "that right and wrong do not exist."

Muhammad said the two were in a war, and that "the winners in a war determine which killings are right and wrong," Cornell said.

In Malvo's initial interviews with Cornell, he defended Muhammad. After several months, though, Malvo said he realized that Muhammad had manipulated him.

"He realized he was an expendable person" to Muhammad, Cornell said, recalling that Malvo wondered: "If I was doing right, why did God let it stop?"

Malvo also had misgivings about Muhammad's plan for the sniper attacks, but felt compelled to follow Muhammad's orders.

"Mr. Muhammad gave him pep talks that black people were killed every day and that in times of war, innocent people would die," said Cornell, who interviewed Malvo more than 20 times after his arrest.

Malvo believed Muhammad would kill him if he ever deviated from the plan, Cornell testified.

The psychologist also testified about Malvo's intense interest in the film "The Matrix," which he watched more than 100 times. Cornell said the movie influenced Malvo's behavior, as did violent video games played by the pair.

The judge allowed the jury to see a short, violent clip of the film, despite prosecutors' objection that the clip was out of context and irrelevant to Malvo's case. Jurors also saw video-game clips.

Cornell said the film seemed to represent how Malvo viewed his situation, with a hero chosen by an African-American father figure to lead a revolution against "an evil government ... that has people oppressed to the point where they don't even know they're oppressed."

Muhammad taught his protege that black Americans were the chosen people of God, but oppressed by a white government, defense attorneys have said.

While the film did not control Malvo's actions, it influenced them, Cornell said.

Muhammad kept Malvo in the dark about the mission's objectives, Cornell said.

Earlier testimony suggested Muhammad wanted to regain custody of his three children, who were living with his ex-wife in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and Muhammad wanted money from the U.S. government that would fund his vision of a new utopian society.

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