CHESAPEAKE, Va. - On the island of Antigua, where Lee Boyd Malvo was considered a promising and mindful student, the principal of his Christian school once paid a visit to the young boy's class to discipline him.
"I told him, `I hear that you are discussing Muslim ideas,'" Rosalind Aaron recounted for jurors at Malvo's capital murder trial yesterday. The boy was carrying a copy of the Quran, the sacred book of Islam, which had been given to him by a mysterious newcomer to the island who identified himself as Malvo's uncle.
"I cannot tell you what to think," Aaron recalled telling the boy as she temporarily took the book away. "But I do not want to you share those ideas because this is a Seventh-day Adventist school."
Over two weeks, his grades at the school dropped precipitously. And he "missed all of his exams," Aaron said.
Malvo's attorney says that testimony described a key point in the life of the teen-ager now on trial on charges that he was part of what prosecutors call a sniper "killing team" that killed 10 people last fall.
The newcomer who gave Malvo the Quran was John Allen Muhammad, who prosecutors say teamed up with Malvo and orchestrated the shootings. Muhammad, who at times told strangers he was Malvo's uncle and at other times declared he was the boy's father, was received a death sentence Monday from a Virginia Beach jury for his role in the sniper attacks.
Malvo, now 18, also could receive a death sentence if he is convicted of the fatal shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47. She was killed Oct. 14 last year in a Home Depot parking lot near Falls Church. One capital murder count accuses him of multiple murders; the other, of trying to extort $10 million from the government in exchange for stopping the shootings.
One of a dozen witnesses who testified for Malvo's defense yesterday, Aaron was among several Caribbean residents who described Malvo as a sweet, obedient child.
The defense, in its second day yesterday, was trying to present what lawyer Craig S. Cooley described in opening statements last week as the confluence of two rivers; Malvo as the clean stream that was overwhelmed by the polluted waterway of Muhammad.
In trying to build an insanity defense, the attorneys are seeking to portray Malvo as a child physically beaten into submission, made rootless and lonely by an absentee mother who refused to let his father see him, and finally, left vulnerable to Muhammad's Svengali-like brainwashing. In contrast, prosecutors have depicted Malvo as a monster, an unrepentant sharpshooter who laughed when telling police about watching his victims fall and die.
Yesterday, several witnesses described Malvo's disruptive early years, in which his mother repeatedly deposited him with other people while she left for months at a time.
Starting when he was about 5 years old, the Jamaican-born Malvo lived with his aunt and uncle in a rural area for about a year, and then moved to St. Martin with his mother, who left him with the couple again a few years later for about two more years. His uncle, John Lawrence, said Malvo was clever and loved being around a father-figure.
Marie Lawrence, his aunt, boomed "Yes, man!" when asked on cross-examination by Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. if she ever struck Malvo.
But she said she rarely had to take a strap to him because he was extremely mindful.
"He tried to obey - because I don't joke," she testified.
She sobbed loudly as she slowly walked out of the courtroom. Her testimony marked the first time Malvo has appeared obviously distraught, and he hung his head low as one of his lawyers rubbed his shoulders. It was unclear if he wiped away a tear. At other times, while witnesses spoke of fond memories, Malvo smiled.
A good student, Malvo did so well on his high school qualifying exams in Jamaica that he was allowed into an academic school for seventh grade, as opposed to a trade-oriented school, witnesses said.
Although he appeared cheerful, Malvo also had a sad side, witnesses from his high school days said. Records from York Castle High School in Jamaica show that his mother put "dead" on the line seeking information about his father, and he lived in a boarding house.
"There were times when he seemed in isolation," testified Onyeka Nevins, 18, a friend of Malvo's at York Castle High School. Esmie McLeod, a teacher there, said that she saw an "emotional vulnerability" in Malvo.
Malvo was at York Castle twice, moving and attending another high school in between.
When she met Una James, Malvo's mother, she chided James "because I felt she was doing her son an injustice by moving him place to place," McLeod said.
Winsom Maxwell, another York Castle teacher, took Malvo to live with her family during Malvo's second time at York Castle. But soon after that, in 1999, his mother whisked him off to Antigua with her.
In coming days, jurors will hear more about Antigua, where James gave her son to Muhammad as collateral for fake travel documents that won her entry into the United States.
Malvo's lawyers have subpoenaed Muhammad to testify. Horan said that will not happen, but Cooley said he has not heard one way or the other from Muhammad's lawyers. The trial will resume Monday.