- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo’s aunt yesterday burst into sobs after testifying in his capital murder trial, briefly locking eyes with the defendant and then wailing “Oh, Jesus,” as she walked out of the courtroom.

Marie Lawrence was among about a dozen relatives, former teachers and classmates from Mr. Malvo’s childhood in Jamaica whom defense attorneys called to the witness stand yesterday.

Their testimony portrayed the suspect as a fatherless average student who suffered in being moved frequently and sometimes abandoned by his mother, bolstering the defense team’s contention that their client was ripe for “brainwashing” by convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad. The witnesses all used the word “obedient” to characterize Mr. Malvo, 18, as an eager-to-please adolescent.

Mrs. Lawrence testified that he was well-behaved when he lived in her home in rural Jamaica when he was 9.

“He was very obedient,” she said. “Even when he was a toddler, he would obey.”

Mrs. Lawrence said he helped keep her daughters in line by warning them that the house rules were “no joke.” He knew that breaking the rules would result in a beating with “a strap,” she said.

The story elicited a wide smile from Mr. Malvo, who nodded his head as Mrs. Lawrence spoke. His expression was the first sign of emotion from the sniper suspect since arguments began in his trial three weeks ago.

As she left the witness stand, Mrs. Lawrence passed by her nephew and they briefly looked into each others’ eyes. “Oh, Jesus,” she sobbed and hurried out of the courtroom. The defendant hung his head and closed his eyes tightly.

Defense attorney Michael Arif patted the teenager’s back and rubbed his shoulder.

Craig S. Cooley, another defense attorney, said Mr. Malvo learned Monday night that a Virginia Beach jury recommended execution for Muhammad, who for years had acted as the teenager’s surrogate father.

“Lee accepted it with a quiet resignation,” Mr. Cooley said at a news conference yesterday.

Muhammad, 42, was convicted last week of capital murder, conspiracy and firearms charges for the Oct. 9, 2002, fatal shooting of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, at a Manassas gas station.

He and the teenager are accused of October 2002’s 13 random shootings in the Washington area in which 10 persons were slain and three wounded. They also have been linked to nine other shootings in five states last year.

Mr. Malvo is charged in the Oct. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, at a Home Depot store in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax. He is charged with two counts of capital murder, one under Virginia’s new antiterrorism law and the other under a serial-killer law. He also is charged with using a firearm during a felony. He, too, could face the death penalty if convicted.

His attorneys are trying to convince the jury that he is not guilty because he was “brainwashed” to be a sniper by Muhammad.

Yesterday, the principal of a school the teenager attended testified that Mr. Malvo’s mother approved the designation of Muhammad as his guardian in the fall of 1999. Rosalind Aaron also testified that Muhammad once identified himself as the teenager’s uncle.

Miss Aaron, principal of a Seventh-day Adventist school on the Caribbean island of Antigua, described the sniper suspect as “intelligent, respectful and jovial.”

Miss Aaron said Mr. Malvo left the school about two weeks after she took a Koran away from him, then gave it back at the end of the day. She said she didn’t want him spreading Muslim ideas in a Christian school.

Esmie McLeod, one of the suspect’s teachers at York Castle High School in Brown’s Town, Jamaica, described him yesterday as “spontaneous, effervescent and very witty,” but said that she was concerned about the effect of constant uprooting in his life.

She saw “an emotional vulnerability about Lee,” Miss McLeod said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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