- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Lee Boyd Malvo was susceptible to brainwashing by convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad because his mother’s frequent moves and uprooted lifestyle created an unstable environment for the teenager, a specialist on cults testified yesterday.

“We’ve seen people change their moral values, people who don’t lie, cheat or steal, start to lie, cheat and steal,” said psychologist Paul R. Martin, a former cult member himself. “A woman who would never be promiscuous can become promiscuous. People who wouldn’t commit crimes can commit crimes.”

Mr. Martin, who specializes in deprogramming cult members, testified that a charismatic leader can use a regime of isolation and dogmatic instruction to indoctrinate a follower into adopting a new persona, even that of a killer.

“Instability is a factor in indoctrination. … People seek relief from that instability, that sense of insecurity in their life,” he said, adding that he had first-hand knowledge of people committing murder because of indoctrination or brainwashing.

Mounting an insanity defense, Mr. Malvo’s attorneys are trying to convince the jury that their client is not guilty in last year’s Washington-area sniper attacks because he was under the control of Muhammad, 42.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. objected several times to Mr. Martin’s testimony, saying that “brainwashing” and “indoctrination” do not fit the medical or legal definition of insanity. He had persuaded Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush on Thursday to limit Mr. Martin’s testimony to the facts presented in the case.

“This specific testimony is designed to get the jury to think about things that have nothing to do with this case,” Mr. Horan said.

But defense attorneys yesterday persuaded the judge to reverse her ruling, saying that Mr. Martin’s testimony would lay the foundation for other mental health experts’ assessments that the teenager was the victim of brainwashing.

Arguing yesterday to limit testimony, Mr. Horan held up a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Society. “[It] never, never, never lists indoctrination as a mental disease,” he said.

The only reference to indoctrination, he said, is under the heading of disassociative disease, a seemingly catch-all diagnosis for which the manual did not list a set of symptoms. Mr. Horan said the disease is “the ultimate refuge for mental health scoundrels.”

During cross-examination, Mr. Horan questioned Mr. Martin about the limitations of mind control and the many variables needed to make a subject vulnerable to brainwashing.

He prodded Mr. Martin to testify that it takes a willing follower and a skilled leader to make brainwashing possible.

“It’s always a two-way street,” the psychologist said.

“If the person you are dealing with kills cats, would it surprise you that you could talk that person into killing people?” Mr. Horan said.

Mr. Martin answered that it is reasonable to assume that someone predisposed to killing animals would be more easily coerced to kill people.

The Fairfax County prosecutor did not say whether the sniper suspect had a history of killing cats, and no evidence of cat killings has been presented in evidence.

On redirect questioning, the defense team asked if a history of “shootings marbles at cats” would predispose a person to mind control. Mr. Martin answered no.

Mr. Malvo, 18, has been on trial since Nov. 10 on two capital murder charges in the Oct. 14, 2002, shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Falls Church Home Depot. One count is under Virginia’s new antiterrorism law, the other under a serial-killer law. He also is charged with using a firearm in commission of a felony.

The teenager and Muhammad are accused of last year’s sniper rampage in which 10 persons were killed and three wounded in the Washington area. They also have been accused of nine other shootings in five states last year.

A Virginia Beach jury last week recommended that Muhammad be executed for his role in the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station. He will be formally sentenced Feb. 12 by Prince William County Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr.

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