- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Jurors spared Lee Boyd Malvo yesterday from the death penalty for his role in the October 2002 sniper attacks that killed 10 persons in the Washington area, a decision that brought mostly disappointment to survivors and victims’ family members.

“I am disappointed, but I accept it,” said Victoria Buchanan Snider, whose brother, James L. “Sonny” Buchanan, was killed while mowing grass in northern Bethesda. “I don’t think that there would ever be another case that is more deserving of the death penalty.”

The jury of eight women and four men instead took 81/2 hours over two days to recommend that Malvo receive life in prison without the possibility of parole and a fine of $200,000.

The 18-year-old Malvo, who was dressed in a blue sweater, sat expressionless when the sentence was announced. Malvo acted much like he did Thursday when the jurors found him guilty of two counts of capital murder and one count of using a firearm to commit a felony in connection with the Oct. 14, 2002, killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax.

However, Malvo’s attorney, Craig S. Cooley, said his client showed mixed emotions after hearing the verdict.

“He was, on one hand, relieved,” Mr. Cooley said. “On the other hand, he is 18 and contemplating living the rest of his natural life in a penitentiary setting.”

The first capital-murder charge was premeditated killing in the commission of an act of terrorism. The second was premeditated murder of more than one person in a three-year period.

Prosecutors said Malvo and his older accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, 42, shot their victims from the trunk of a 1990 Chevy Caprice sedan so they could extort $10 million from the government.

A Virginia Beach jury on Nov. 24 recommended that Muhammad receive a death sentence on the same capital-murder and firearms charges for killing Dean Harold Meyers, a 53-year-old Vietnam veteran who was shot in the head on Oct. 9, 2002, as he filled his tank at a Manassas gas station. Muhammad also was found guilty of conspiracy.

Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said the jury decided against the death penalty for Malvo because of his youthful appearance.

“I think his lawyers did a very good job, and he’s very lucky he looks a lot younger than he is,” Mr. Horan said.

He also said the timing of the verdict — two days before Christmas — helped Malvo avoid the death penalty.

“Whatever you do, you don’t try one on Christmas week,” Mr. Horan said. “I’m sure that played a part.”

Jury foreman James Wolfcale, a pastor of a Baptist church in Virginia Beach, read from a short, prepared statement after the verdict, calling the trial an “emotionally exhausting” and an “extremely difficult journey.”

The jury considered testimony from 140 witnesses and nearly 300 pieces of evidence over three weeks. Jurors ranged in age from 23 to 70 years old and included two salesmen, two housewives, two retired teachers, a mechanic, a minister, a nurse and a legal secretary.

The jurors determined that Malvo posed a future threat to society and that his crimes were “outrageously vile,” each necessary conditions to give the death penalty in Virginia, but decided against that sentence.

The jury returned to the courtroom yesterday at 4 p.m., but was sent back twice in five minutes because Judge Jane Marum Roush said their verdict forms were incomplete.

The delay only heightened the tension in the courtroom.

Family members of those fatally shot hugged each other and wiped away tears, and Mr. Cooley slumped his head and dabbed tears from his face.

“You’re exhausted, and your emotions come right up to the surface,” Mr. Cooley said afterward.

Some family members of the victims disagreed with the verdict.

“What if he runs away again?” asked Vijay Walekar, brother of taxi driver Premkumar Walekar, who died of a gunshot while putting gas in his car in Aspen Hill. “I am just not pleased at all.”

Prosecutors had argued that Malvo posed a future threat to society because of an escape attempt he made shortly after his arrest and because of the threatening jailhouse letters he wrote. One letter stated that if he were freed, he would make the terrorist acts of September 11 “look like a picnic.”

Malvo still could receive the death penalty because he faces capital-murder charges in multiple jurisdictions, including Prince William County, Alabama and Louisiana.

Mr. Cooley said he will appeal the conviction, but he declined to elaborate.

Prosecutors in Montgomery County, Alabama and Louisiana also have expressed interest in putting Malvo and Muhammad on trial. And Mr. Horan has said he thinks Malvo should be prosecuted next in Prince William County.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, will make the final decision on where or whether the men will be prosecuted next, but that decision is not expected to be made until the men are sentenced formally.

Montgomery County, Md., Executive Douglas M. Duncan said he sympathized with the jury’s “wrenching process” and its “difficult” task.

“While I believe that this was a case that cried out for the ultimate sanction, I respect the jury’s decision,” he said.

Douglas F. Gansler, Montgomery County state’s attorney, said Malvo’s attorneys “put forth a masterful defense” in focusing on Malvo’s age, his psyche and the influences he “was purportedly under.”

He also said he still wants to try the case for the families of victims in Montgomery County.

“I do feel that the healing process should occur,” Mr. Gansler said. “I think there’s a minimal cost associated with it. We could try them jointly for six homicides in one trial.”

A legal expert said prosecutors in other jurisdictions would face the same challenges in trying to sentence Malvo to death.

“He will still look like a boy for as long as they keep having these trials,” said Donald H. Smith, a professor of sociology at nearby Old Dominion University and a jury consultant for the Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.

Matthew Cella contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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