- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — A jury of eight women and four men convicted Lee Boyd Malvo of capital murder yesterday for his role in last year’s Washington-area sniper killings — bringing the teenage defendant one step closer to a death sentence.

After deliberating for a little more than 13 hours, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts for the Oct. 14, 2002, slaying of Linda Franklin, 47, in the parking garage of a Home Depot in Falls Church.

Malvo, 18, could be executed for committing a murder in an act of terrorism and for being a serial killer who committed more than one murder in a three-year period. He also was convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a felony, which automatically carries a sentence of three years in prison because of his juvenile status.

The teenager hunched over the defense table and exhaled as the clerk of the court read the verdicts at 5:35 p.m. He otherwise exhibited no emotion, appearing as aloof and distracted as he has for most of the six-week trial.

By rendering the guilty verdicts, the jury rejected the insanity defense that Malvo was brainwashed by the convicted mastermind of the attacks, 42-year-old John Allen Muhammad. The three-week shooting rampage left 10 persons dead and three wounded in the Washington area. The verdict also indicated that the jury felt Malvo was the triggerman in at least two of the killings.

The jury took twice as long to convict the teenager as the Virginia Beach jury that convicted Muhammad last month on identical charges. The Virginia Beach jurors then took about six hours to recommend a death sentence for Muhammad.

The penalty phase of the Malvo trial begins this morning with further testimony, and is expected to take two to three days. With no court proceedings scheduled next Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, that could mean the jury won’t begin deliberations on execution or life in prison until the week after Christmas.

The defense will try to convince the jury that Malvo possesses redeemable qualities, while prosecutors will argue that he poses an ongoing risk to society and his crimes were so heinous that he deserves to die.

If the jury sentences Malvo to death, it will be a first for a Chesapeake jury. The case was moved to Chesapeake from Fairfax because of pretrial publicity.

As the verdict was read in the courtroom, family members of some of the victims exchanged weary smiles and gentle touches to each other’s arms and shoulders.

“We are extremely pleased with the verdict,” Bob Meyers, the brother of sniper victim Dean Harold Meyers, told reporters outside the courtroom. “We believe that justice has been served.”

The Virginia Beach jury found Muhammad guilty of the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Mr. Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. The Meyers killing was a second murder committed by Malvo, qualifying him as a serial killer.

Mrs. Franklin’s husband, William, and her daughter, Katrina Hanam, smiled as they exited the courtroom.

Also present for yesterday’s verdict were family members of Premkumar A. Walekar, 54, fatally shot Oct. 3, 2002, at a Aspen Hill gas station, and the daughter of Pascal Charlot, 72, killed later that same day on a street corner in the District.

“I felt like I was watching a funeral procession as the victims’ families were walking out,” said Mary William, 46, a Chesapeake housewife who attended the trial nearly every day. “I think I’ll go home and cry.”

The jury of six white women, two white men, two black women and two black men reached the verdict after hearing testimony by about 140 witnesses and seeing nearly 300 pieces of evidence in the course of 22 days.

The jurors range in age from 23 to 70 and include two salesmen, two housewives, two retired educators, a teacher, a school lunchroom monitor, a legal secretary, a mechanic, a minister and a nurse.

The evidence linking Malvo to the sniper attacks included traces of his DNA and fingerprints on the Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle used in the slayings, as well as on two notes left at shooting scenes. The notes demanded the government pay $10 million to stop the killings.

Perhaps the most incriminating evidence was two audio recordings of the teenager laughing as he confessed to police that he had pulled the trigger in at least eight of the shootings, including the head shot that killed Mrs. Franklin and the body shot that killed Mr. Meyers.

On one tape, the jury heard Malvo say he “intended to kill them all” when he took aim at his victims. On the other tape, they heard him vow to kill again. “It’s business to me,” he said.

Malvo later recanted the confession when interviewed by mental-health experts. He told them he was the spotter and Muhammad the shooter in all but one of the sniper attacks. He took credit only for shootings unrelated to the three-week spree and for the final sniper attack Oct. 22, 2002, that killed Ride On bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, in Aspen Hill.

Defense lawyers said the teenager gave a false confession to police because he was brainwashed to protect Muhammad. The teenager didn’t tell the truth, they said, until he had been in jail for eight months and had begun to emerge from Muhammad’s spell.

The defense team consistently cast Muhammad as the chief villain of the sniper attacks and Malvo as his hapless dupe.

The jury, in returning a guilty verdict on the serial-killing charge, rejected the defense strategy, opting instead to believe the teenager’s original confession that he was the triggerman in the attacks.

But deciding when Malvo told the truth may not have been as difficult for the jury as deciding which mental-health expert to believe.

The outcome of the trial in many ways hinged on conflicting testimony by psychiatrists and psychologists as to whether Malvo was legally insane during the spree and couldn’t tell right from wrong — the legal definition of insanity in Virginia.

The defense’s psychiatrists diagnosed the sniper suspect with a disassociative disorder, which they said caused him to detach from his emotions and his identity. They said his psyche, damaged by a childhood of abuse and abandonment in his native Jamaica, left him vulnerable to brainwashing by Muhammad, who used isolation, a starvation diet and rigorous training to induce him to join a “holy war” against America.

The prosecution’s mental-health experts refuted the diagnosis, saying Malvo “knew exactly what he was doing.”

“He knew he was killing people,” said Evan Nelson, one of the prosecution’s forensic psychologists. “Brainwashing is too strong a term to describe the kind of influence John Muhammad had over him.”

Throughout the trial, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. ridiculed the insanity defense, saying that brainwashing was not a legitimate mental disorder.

“It’s a smokescreen for the real issue here,” Mr. Horan said in his summation to the jury Tuesday. “[Malvo] sighted that rifle across the highway and shot Linda Franklin in the head. … He knew it was wrong.”

After two days of deliberation behind the closed doors of the jury room, Mr. Horan’s argument won out.

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