- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — The prosecution rested its case yesterday against Lee Boyd Malvo after testimony by two psychologists who said the sniper suspect was neither brainwashed nor legally insane during last year’s shooting rampage.

The case is expected to go to the jury by this afternoon following closing arguments by both sides.

The testimony from prosecution witnesses Evan S. Nelson and Stanton Samenow, forensic psychologists, was a marked contrast to that of defense team mental-health experts who said Mr. Malvo, 18, was brainwashed by convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad, 42.

“He knew he was killing people,” said Mr. Nelson, who interviewed Mr. Malvo for 15 hours last month. “He had a clear awareness when he was killing someone or participating in killing someone and that he did not want to get caught.”

Mr. Samenow described Mr. Malvo’s state of mind as “fully conscious, cognizant and purposeful.”

“He knows exactly what he is doing,” Mr. Samenow said.

The psychologists also said Mr. Malvo knew right from wrong during the 2002 killing spree, including the killing of Linda Franklin for which he stands trial.

Mr. Malvo’s attorneys said their client could not tell right from wrong during the crimes — the legal standard for insanity in Virginia.

Mr. Malvo faces the death penalty if convicted of either of two counts of capital murder for the Oct. 14, 2002, slaying of Mrs. Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot in Falls Church. One count falls under the state’s new antiterrorism law and the other under a serial-killer law.

A Virginia Beach jury recommended Muhammad be executed last month after convicting him on identical charges for the Oct. 9, 2002, murder of Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas gas station.

At Mr. Malvo’s trial yesterday, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. also showed the jury letters the sniper suspect wrote in jail.

In the letters, Mr. Malvo instructs a fellow inmate called “Pacman” on how to conceal one’s emotions and motives to lull an enemy into a vulnerable position. Mr. Malvo also wrote that he will use this “tactic” to plot a prison break.

“My strategy works for me because my enemy does not know me,” according to the letter written this summer or fall. “I play the stupid fool, look how I act and speak. Everybody underestimates me, [which] gives me the edge I need.”

Mr. Malvo also states in the letter that he needs a gun, or “gat,” then invites Pacman to join in an escape and start a scheme to make “quick paper,” or counterfeit money. The letter also includes a crude rendering of a clock with the caption: “Tick tock. Waiting game. Study. Learn. Plan.”

The prosecution apparently showed the letter to prove Mr. Malvo was still plotting crimes months after his capture and far away from Muhammad’s influence.

However, the defense has argued that recovering from brainwashing can take a long time and includes episodes of relapse.

Lead defense attorney Michael Arif pointed to a passage from Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler” in one letter, try to undercut the seriousness of the letter. The defense team has often tried to depict the defendant as youthful and immature.

Last week, Mr. Malvo’s lawyers presented two of their own mental-health experts as part of the insanity defense. They said a mental illness, known as a dissociative disorder, combined with the brainwashing, caused Mr. Malvo to shut down his emotions completely and meld his identity with that of Muhammad.

The lawyers said Mr. Malvo was indoctrinated into Muhammad’s “extreme brand of Islam” and persuaded that the sniper attacks were part of a racial “holy war.”

The prosecution’s mental-health experts also embraced the holy war theory, but said Mr. Malvo willingly converted to Muhammad’s quixotic political and religious belief system and actively participated in the planning and executing of the attacks.

“Brainwashing is too strong a term to describe the kind of influence John Muhammad had over him,” Mr. Nelson said. He said the relationship was more like idol worship than mind control.

“There is no sign that [Mr. Malvo] was coerced into this belief system. [He] came to adopt Mr. Muhammad’s views because he believed in them,” Mr. Nelson said. “Having a different view of what is right and wrong morally is not being mentally ill.”

In cross-examination, Mr. Malvo’s lawyers attempted to portray Mr. Nelson and Mr. Samenow as biased. They said Mr. Samenow had never diagnosed a defendant as legally insane.

Mr. Samenow, who has performed extensive criminal psychology research, said he has never encountered a criminal who committed crimes due to mental illness, though many use mental illness as an excuse for their behavior.

Craig S. Cooley, another defense attorney, questioned Mr. Nelson about symptoms the psychologist chose to overlook, such as Mr. Malvo’s conversion to Islam and adoption of a vegetarian diet to conform to Muhammad.

In response, Mr. Nelson said that a change of religion, political party or diet did not equate with a loss of identity or a mental disorder.

However, he acknowledged detecting some personality flaws in Mr. Malvo that fell short of mental illness.

“He is somewhat narcissistic,” Mr. Nelson said. “He believes he is smarter than others and better than others. … He has a need to feel superior, a need to feel powerful.”


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