- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Defense attorneys for Lee Boyd Malvo presented expert testimony for the first time yesterday that he was legally insane when he took part in last year’s sniper attacks in the Washington area.

Forensic psychiatrists Neil Blumberg and Diane H. Schetky testified that the teenage sniper suspect could not tell right from wrong because his identity was fused with that of convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad.

“He was merged with Mr. Muhammad,” Dr. Blumberg said. “He was acting as his proxy. They were one in the same. He was like a puppet in [Muhammads] hands.”

The inability to tell right from wrong is the legal standard for insanity in Virginia, and the psychiatrists’ testimony formed the linchpin for Mr. Malvo’s insanity defense. They said the defendant was brainwashed by Muhammad, 42, and was not criminally responsible for his role in the October 2002 shootings that left 10 dead and three wounded.

“He’s basically a soldier in Muhammad’s war against America,” said Dr. Blumberg, who interviewed the defendant 20 times. “He doesn’t see the enormity of what he is doing, that lives are being lost.”

The diagnosis capped 10 days of testimony by defense witnesses and came midway through the fifth week of the trial. Defense attorneys had hoped to rest their case yesterday, but extensive cross-examination by Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. extended the defense case to today.

The defense does not plan to call anymore witnesses and likely will rest this morning.

The case could go to the jury by Monday, after testimony by two mental-health experts for the prosecution to rebut the insanity defense and the presentation of closing arguments by both sides.

Dr. Blumberg and Dr. Schetky testified that Mr. Malvo, 18, suffered the mental disorder specifically during the Oct. 14, 2002, slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church.

The teenager is being tried on two counts of capital murder in Mrs. Franklin’s death — one count under Virginia’s new antiterrorism law, the other under a serial-killer law. He also is charged with using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

A Virginia Beach jury recommended that Muhammad be executed for murdering Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station on Oct. 9, 2002. Muhammad also was convicted of conspiracy and illegal use of a firearm.

Yesterday, the two psychiatrists provided testimony that detracted from what is perhaps the most damaging evidence against the teenager — his audio-recorded confessions to police in which he laughs and chuckles while claiming responsibility for at least eight of the Washington-area shootings.

Both doctors said the defendant often exhibited “frequent inappropriate laughter” and a childlike inability to fathom serious topics. They also said he displayed a “pathological loyalty” to Muhammad and expressed a desire to sacrifice himself to save Muhammad, his one-time surrogate father

“He came to believe if he was the triggerman, then he would take the hit and he might save his father’s life,” Dr. Blumberg testified.

Both Dr. Blumberg and Dr. Schetky insisted that the sniper suspect served as the spotter and Muhammad as the triggerman in the shooting of Mrs. Franklin, contradicting the defendant’s confession.

On cross-examination of Dr. Schetky, Mr. Horan said, “Here again, it is whether you accept his word for it.”

Mr. Horan’s cross-examinations yesterday aimed to undermine the psychiatrists’ diagnoses. He showed the jury the entry for disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Society and pointed out the absence of a list of symptoms, such as those found with other mental diseases.

The psychiatrists said that many broad categories in the manual, such as depression, have entries for “not otherwise specified” conditions that don’t fit specific maladies but nevertheless represent legitimate mental disorders.

Mr. Horan noted many of the shootings, focusing on the eight that Mr. Malvo confessed to during police interrogation, and asked the psychiatrists whether the sniper suspect knew his actions were wrong.

When Dr. Blumberg or Dr. Schetky said they didn’t discuss with the defendant a particular shooting, Mr. Horan often asked, “You didn’t think it was important if he thought it was wrong?”

That line of questioning led Dr. Schetky to describe how the teenager was emotionally wracked when he fatally shot Keenya Cook, 21, in the face as she opened the door of her home in Tacoma, Wash. The Feb. 16, 2002, shooting served as a training exercise for Mr. Malvo, according to testimony.

Dr. Schetky said the sniper suspect was shaking and soiled his pants after he shot Miss Cook, reactions that he hid from Muhammad.

Mr. Horan asked whether that meant he knew it was wrong to shoot Miss Cook.

“He felt he didn’t have a choice,” she said.

Mr. Horan asked repeatedly whether the teenager knew it was wrong. Dr. Schetky said he had “misgivings.”

“So, he knew it was wrong, but he decided to do it anyway?” said Mr. Horan.

Dr. Schetky said yes.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide