Jury convicts Malvo in sniper shootings

Teen-ager's defense of insanity rejected after 13 hours of deliberations

`Extremely pleased with verdict'

Jurors to return today to begin penalty phase of capital murder trial

December 19, 2003|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Rejecting the defense claim that Lee Boyd Malvo was insane after a former Army soldier transformed him into a dispassionate killer, a jury convicted the teen-ager of capital murder yesterday in connection with last fall's sniper assaults that left 10 dead in the Washington area and millions living in fear.

Jurors deliberated about 13 hours over two days before emerging - some red-eyed - for the reading of their decision to convict Malvo, 18, of two counts of capital murder. Although the charges related to the fatal shooting of Linda Franklin, 47, an FBI analyst who was killed outside a Home Depot store near Falls Church on Oct. 14, 2002, prosecutors had introduced evidence during the trial of 10 other murders they believe Malvo committed in the Washington area and elsewhere.

Malvo, his arms folded in front of him on the defense table, slumped slightly but remained stone-faced as the verdict was announced in the hushed courtroom. The convictions make him eligible for the death penalty - the sentence a jury recommended last month for co-defendant John Allen Muhammad.

The second phase of the trial begins today. Prosecutors, bolstered by testimony from victims' relatives, will be seeking the death penalty. The defense, which is bringing in people from Malvo's childhood in the Caribbean to testify, will ask jurors to give Malvo life in prison without parole.

Relatives of some of the victims killed in the sniper siege appeared somber and relieved yesterday, as if they had been waiting for weeks to exhale. Franklin's daughter, Katrina Hannum, left the courtroom teary-eyed. Ted Franklin, who witnessed his wife's murder, showed a hint of satisfaction on his face.

Bob Meyers, brother of sniper murder victim Dean H. Meyers, was the sole relative to speak after walking out of court.

"We are extremely pleased with their verdict," he said, adding that his family believes "justice has been served."

Five days before Franklin's murder, Dean Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg was shot in the head when he stopped to pump gas near Manassas, Va.

Lawyers in the case said nothing, bound by a gag order issued by Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush.

The defense team failed to persuade the jury of eight women and four men to find Malvo not guilty due to insanity at the time of the crimes, a defense legal experts said was a long shot more realistically aimed at setting the stage for a push during sentencing to spare Malvo's life.

The jury also rejected the defense's fall-back request to find Malvo guilty of first-degree murder - a conviction that would have spared him the possibility of a death sentence.

Malvo's attorneys argued that Muhammad, 42, crushed Malvo's ability to discern right from wrong through brainwashing. Muhammad, they said, turned a vulnerable adolescent into a murderous soldier.

But jurors held Malvo responsible for his actions under two capital counts: that Franklin's killing was one of multiple murders he committed and, under Virginia's untested anti-terrorism law, that it was done in a scheme to intimidate the government into complying with a $10 million extortion request to halt the shootings.

In a presentation of more than 80 witnesses, Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. contended that Malvo shot Franklin, Meyers and other victims, and knew what he was doing as part of a murderous duo that killed at random for money.

`Overwhelming problem'

Legal experts said Malvo's confession and cavalier attitude about the killings probably weighed heavily against him.

"I thought the defense did a phenomenal job," said law professor Michael Greenberger of the University of Maryland. "But the confessions were an overwhelming problem for Malvo. The jury heard him laughing about the shootings."

While the defense team's psychiatric testimony helped it regain some lost ground, Greenberger said, letters that Malvo wrote in late summer or early fall to a fellow inmate at the Fairfax County Detention Center - three or more months after defense lawyers contended that Malvo was returning to his "real" self - packed a wallop.

In them, Malvo advised an inmate referred to as "Pacman" how to plot an escape. Malvo also told him that he plays a "fool" outwardly while scheming privately.

"My strategy works for me because my enemy does not know me," Malvo wrote.

The five-lawyer defense team contended that Malvo suffered from a "dissociative disorder" brought on by Muhammad's brainwashing. In it, the Jamaican youth lost his identity, suppressed his emotions and learned to separate his thoughts, actions and feelings.

Calling his client "John Muhammad Jr.," defense lawyer Michael S. Arif told jurors in closing arguments Tuesday that Malvo "was perfectly programmed" to think, believe and act the way Muhammad wanted.

"Right was what John Muhammad said it was. Wrong was what John Muhammad said it was," Arif told jurors.

Many defense witnesses

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