Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Jurors in the Lee Boyd Malvo trial said yesterday they wanted to give the 18-year-old sniper the death penalty, but settled on a sentence of life in prison without parole to avoid a hung jury.

“We had seven for the death penalty and five against it,” said William G. Hurdle, 70, a retired schoolteacher. “But there were some who weren’t going to change their minds no matter what. We knew we weren’t going to get the unanimous verdict.”

Virginia law requires juries to reach a unanimous verdict to recommend the death sentence.

The Chesapeake jury sentenced Malvo for his role in the October 2002 sniper attacks in the Washington area that killed 10 persons and wounded three others.

Malvo’s lawyers presented an insanity defense, arguing that he was brainwashed when he 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.

Jurors found Malvo guilty last week on two counts of capital murder and on one count of using a firearm to commit a felony in the Oct. 14, 2002, killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax.

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.

Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. acknowledged that jurors likely had trouble recommending a death sentence for the defendant.

Malvo was “very lucky that he looks a lot younger than he is,” Mr. Horan said.

He also said the jury voted against giving Malvo the death penalty because deliberations were just days before Christmas.

Juror Deborah C. Moulse disputed the idea that Christmas made jurors less inclined to vote for death.

“The holidays had nothing to do with it,” she said.

Mrs. Moulse said she voted against the death penalty despite the fact that defense psychiatrists failed to convince her that Malvo’s troubled childhood and youth made him vulnerable to Muhammad’s influence. Malvo was 15 when he met Muhammad and 17 during the sniper killings.

Mrs. Moulse said jurors did not know until after the verdict that Malvo still faces capital-murder charges in multiple jurisdictions, including Prince William County, Alabama and Louisiana.

“We thought this trial was it,” Mrs. Moulse said.

The juror also said the panel issued a $200,000 fine against Malvo — the maximum amount under sentencing guidelines — to show they were giving the harshest penalty short of death.

Mr. Horan said after the trial that 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.

Mr. Hurdle said prosecutors should keep putting Malvo on trial until he receives the death penalty.

“They shouldn’t stop until they get him on death row,” he said. “He should have gotten death. He didn’t show one bit of remorse. He treated the whole thing like it was a joke.”

Juror Angelique Nedera, 23, a first-grade teacher, said she also initially favored the death penalty.

“I still felt he’d be some sort of threat to society, whether it be from the letters he was writing or the drawings,” she said yesterday. “In one way or another, I felt he would still be dangerous. Maybe he would influence others in jail.”

Juror Shelby Thornton also wanted the death penalty, then reconsidered.

‘In the pictures that Lee Malvo drew and the letters he wrote, he always wanted to be a martyr for his cause,” she said on NBC’s “Today.” “I think by not giving him the death sentence, I haven’t given him that, and he’ll have to spend the next 60 to 70 years of his life thinking about the pain that he has caused those poor families.”

Several family members of the victims were disappointed 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.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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