- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Virginia prosecutors pledged yesterday to put Lee Boyd Malvo on trial for his life again, moments after the teenager was formally sentenced to life in prison for the murder of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, one of 10 persons killed in the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks.

Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert, speaking to reporters after the sentencing, said he plans to pursue another capital murder case against Malvo if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds that juveniles are eligible for the death penalty.

The Supreme Court ruling is expected this year or next, which could mean another death-penalty trial for Malvo, 19, as early as the summer of 2005.

“Although [Malvo] was 17 at the time, he certainly had free will,” said Mr. Ebert, who wants to try Malvo for the same murder that John Allen Muhammad, his conspirator, was sentenced to death for on Tuesday.

Muhammad fatally shot Dean Harold Meyers, 53, on Oct. 11, 2002, at a Manassas gas station.

Outside the Chesapeake courthouse, family members of victims believed killed in a cross-country shooting spree by the snipers said Malvo’s sentence — life in prison without parole — was too lenient.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Kwang Szuszka, the sister of Hong Im Ballenger, 45, who was fatally shot Sept. 23, 2002, in Baton Rouge, La., a week before the Washington-area shootings started.

She said Malvo, who was heard laughing about the shooting spree on his taped confession, deserves to be executed like Muhammad, the mastermind.

“They committed these crimes together. They should have the death penalty together,” she said as a steady rain fell on the post-sentencing news conference.

Other members of victims’ families agreed.

“He should have gotten the death penalty because he is as responsible as Muhammad,” said Vijay Walekar, brother of Premkumar A. Walekar, 54, who was fatally shot while pumping gas Oct. 3, 2002, in Aspen Hill.

Bob Meyers, brother of Dean Meyers, said the jury was wrong to spare Malvo’s life and that the courts have “unfinished business” with the teenage sniper.

Malvo was a juvenile when he and Muhammad were arrested and charged in the shooting rampage. Prosecutors said they sighted their unsuspecting victims with a Bushmaster .223-caliber assault rifle from the trunk of their 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. They are also implicated in nine earlier shootings in other states that killed five persons.

Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who won the conviction and life sentence against Malvo, said he planned to prosecute Muhammad for the same capital case even though the elder sniper is already slated for execution.

Mr. Horan said the multimillion-dollar cost of another trial does not override “the egregiousness of the murders committed.” He also said a second death sentence would help ensure an execution takes place after the appeals process, which could last about five years.

Both snipers were convicted late last year of committing serial murder and committing murder and terrorism — Malvo for the Oct. 14, 2002, slaying of Mrs. Franklin, 47, in the parking garage of a Home Depot in Falls Church; and Muhammad for murdering Mr. Meyers.

The trials were moved to Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, respectively, because of pretrial publicity in the Washington area.

Muhammad will now face another death sentence for the Franklin killing. Depending on the Supreme Court ruling, Malvo could face a death sentence for the Meyers slaying.

The two could also face the death penalty for killings in Montgomery County; Spotsylvania, Va.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Baton Rouge, La. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Democrat, has promised to complete the trials in his state before allowing either Malvo or Muhammad to be extradited.

The lead attorneys on Malvo’s defense team, Michael S. Arif and Craig S. Cooley, said they would represent the teenager again in Virginia if requested.

Malvo declined to make a statement before Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush handed down a sentence of life in prison without parole and a $200,000 fine. The judge said it was unlikely Malvo could ever pay, but that the jury likely imposed the monetary penalty to indicate their disdain for his actions.

During the proceedings, which lasted only about 10 minutes, Malvo appeared relaxed and alert, though he hung his head as he was escorted from the courtroom.

Not all of those touched by the attacks were disappointed with the life sentence. Victoria Buchanan Snyder, sister of James “Sonny” Buchanan, who was fatally shot Oct. 3, 2002, while mowing grass in White Flint, said she was satisfied to know Malvo would never be free.

“The most important thing here is that we don’t want to see either Malvo or Muhammad re-enter society and take another life,” she said, tears in her eyes.

Jury member Doug Keefer said he was satisfied, though he would have voted for death if the rest of the jury had voted that way.

“In my opinion, there was some influence by John Muhammad, and [Malvo] was a minor at the time,” said Mr. Keefer, a 52-year-old sales manager at a car dealership.

Still, the juror didn’t believe the defense argument that Malvo had been brainwashed by Muhammad. “He knew right from wrong, and Mr. Horan proved that in the trial,” Mr. Keefer said. “And I think he knows right from wrong today.”

Mr. Arif, the defense attorney, said Malvo has begun to take account of his crimes but has a long way to go before he can fathom what he has done.

“He can’t appreciate everything that has happened to the victims,” Mr. Arif said.

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