- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Attorneys for sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo began a new phase yesterday in their insanity defense, presenting testimony that the defendant was obsessed with the revolutionary theme portrayed in the movie “The Matrix.”

Cormeta Albarus, a forensic social worker, said Mr. Malvo identified with the movie because the plot paralleled that of the sniper attacks — to spur reform of the racist system that governs the world.

Mrs. Albarus, who has interviewed Mr. Malvo regularly since March, said the defendant appeared to identify with the character Neo, who was destined to overthrow a robot society that had subjugated the human race.

She also said Mr. Malvo, 18, saw convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad, 42, as Morpheus, Neo’s mentor and trainer.

Mr. Malvo’s lawyers are expected to ask today that jurors watch a 12-minute segment of the movie, though prosecutors are likely to object.

Mrs. Albarus said Mr. Malvo thought his actions would help create the utopian commune in which 70 boys and 70 girls of different races and ethnicity would be transformed into “super-children” and sent out to reform the world.

“He felt very confident that this could be done,” she said.

Mrs. Albarus also said she was surprised by how much Mr. Malvo was “consumed by racial inequality and injustice,” considering that they both are from Jamaica, where most people are black and are governed by blacks.

The defense team is trying to convince the jury that Mr. Malvo is not guilty by reason of insanity because he was indoctrinated into Muhammad’s “extreme brand of Islam” and was under Muhammad’s complete control when participating in the assassination-style slayings.

Defense attorneys also say Muhammad convinced Mr. Malvo that the sniper attacks were part of a social war, the outcome of which would lead to a utopian commune in Canada.

The defense team also called upon David Schretlen, a clinical psychiatrist who had examined Mr. Malvo in August.

“His affect or expression of emotions seemed quite odd,” said Dr. Schretlen of Johns Hopkins University. “It was a goofy effect that seemed out of touch with the seriousness of the situation.”

Dr. Schretlen also said Mr. Malvo demonstrated average intelligence but scored near the bottom of the average range for processing information quickly and paying attention.

For example, the defendant scored unusually low in a naming test, failing to identify drawings of a harmonica, a door knocker and a stethoscope.

Mr. Malvo also showed signs of social isolation and hypervigilance, he said.

The testimony did not address the legal definition of insanity, whether Mr. Malvo knew the difference between right and wrong when participating in the three-week sniper spree in October last year that left 10 dead and three wounded in the Washington area.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., the prosecutor in the case, unsuccessfully petitioned Fairfax County District Judge Jane Marum Roush to bar Dr. Schretlen from testifying. Mr. Horan argued that the defense team had failed to give the prosecution a report of the psychiatrist’s opinions, as required.

“We certainly didn’t get this conclusion,” he told the judge. “We are surprised by this.”

However, the judge overruled, saying the defense had provided a copy of the test results and were not required to draft a report of Dr. Schretlen’s conclusions.

Mr. Horan also failed to block testimony by Paul R. Martin, a psychologist specializing in cult indoctrination and deprogramming. However, Judge Roush limited his testimony to topics directly related to the evidence submitted in the case.

The defense delayed Mr. Martin’s testimony until another day.

However, the prosecution convinced Judge Roush to issue a gag order for the attorneys, putting an end to the defense team’s daily news conferences. The prosecution complained that somebody had leaked to The Washington Post a copy of a letter Mr. Malvo wrote in summer 2002, a couple months before the sniper attacks.

Judge Roush ruled Wednesday that the letter, in which Mr. Malvo purportedly seeks help to escape from Muhammad’s control, could not be entered as evidence. A copy of the letter appeared in the paper yesterday.

The judge also said she feared the news conferences might be used to influence the jurors or the family of jurors. The Malvo trial jury has not been sequestered, though the judge instructs the jurors every day to avoid news reports about the trial.

Among the first witnesses of the day was Larry F. Ziegler, a handwriting expert who testified that Mr. Malvo wrote the notes left for police at two of the shootings and that his handwriting is on a Tarot card left at a shooting that was inscribed, “Call me God.”

Mr. Ziegler said he reached his conclusions after comparing samples of Mr. Malvo’s handwriting to copies of the tarot card found at the shooting of 13-year-old Iran Brown and the notes left at the shootings of Jeffrey Hopper and Conrad Johnson.

Mr. Malvo faces the death penalty on two counts of capital murder in the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Deport store in Falls Church. One count is under Virginia’s new antiterrorism law and the other under a serial-killer law. He is also charged with using a firearm in commission of a felony.

A Virginia Beach jury last week recommended a death sentence for Muhammad after convicting him on identical murder and gun charges for the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. Muhammad also was convicted of conspiracy.

As in the Muhammad trial, the prosecutors in Mr. Malvo’s trial have linked the defendant to multiple sniper attacks to win a conviction on the terrorism and serial-killer charges.

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