Malvo lawyer appeals for `love,' as prosecutor demands `justice'

Life-or-death deliberations begin on teen's sentence

December 23, 2003|By Stephen Kiehl and Andrea Siegel | Stephen Kiehl and Andrea Siegel,SUN STAFF

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Defense lawyer Craig S. Cooley stood before the jurors who will decide a sentence for Lee Boyd Malvo and made a final plea yesterday for the convicted sniper's life, distilling three weeks of evidence into 30 minutes of eloquence. Then, after the jury left the courtroom to begin its work, Cooley sat down and sobbed.

Jurors did not reach a decision on a sentence yesterday in Malvo's trial, which has elicited tears from jurors, spectators, reporters and now the lawyers themselves. If it seemed the emotion ran high Friday - when relatives of victims gave anguished testimony - it did not let up yesterday when Cooley and prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. delivered powerful closing arguments.

Both are skilled trial lawyers who are not used to losing. Horan is Virginia's longest-serving prosecutor, known for a spare style that gets results. Cooley, a silver-haired Southern gentleman, has handled 60 capital cases, and only two have resulted in executions.

Cooley had two props yesterday - a stone he held in his hand and Malvo himself.

During his closing, Cooley gripped the stone and told the jury that in ancient times justice was participatory, with jurors stoning those they had sentenced to death. And later Cooley placed his hand on Malvo's shoulder, as a father would his son, and asked the jurors to show "compassion and love."

"Every person, certainly every child, has good within him," Cooley said to the jury of eight women and four men, which will resume sentencing deliberations today.

Horan had his own props - photographs of those who lost their lives to the snipers. As Horan read the names and showed the pictures of each victim, he asked for justice for each of them. He also played tapes of Malvo's confessions, interspersing Malvo's incriminating words, which were projected onto a large screen, with horrible autopsy and crime scene photos.

The prosecutor reminded jurors of the victim-impact testimony and of the losses suffered. He reminded them of James "Sonny" Buchanan, killed while riding his lawnmower, a man who used to sit with his mother on her porch in rocking chairs.

"She used to talk to her son for hours in those rocking chairs," Horan said. "That mother now sits in one of those rocking chairs, waiting for a son who will never come home. That's vileness. That's vileness."

Horan showed the picture of Linda Franklin lying in the parking lot of a Northern Virginia Home Depot, half her face blown away by a sniper's bullet. The photograph lingered on a large video screen in the courtroom for 10 seconds that felt like hours. And then Horan played tapes of Malvo laughing about that killing and others, which Malvo said were done to force the government into paying $10 million.

Calling for a death sentence, Horan urged jurors to find that Malvo's crimes were "wantonly vile," and that the youth who was 17 when Franklin was slain will be a threat to society. They need find only one of those criteria to sentence him to death, though they can find both and still sentence him to life without parole.

Horan reminded jurors that Malvo tried to escape through a police-station ceiling Oct. 24 last year, the day he was arrested, and that in letters in August or September to a fellow Fairfax County Detention Center inmate, he vowed to "die trying" to escape.

He said Malvo is remorseless: "You listened to the evidence. You heard about him sobbing and crying on different occasions. But he is crying for himself. He is not crying for all the people he killed."

"Remorse? They are going to have to invent it for you to find it," Horan said.

Cooley harped on Malvo's tender age and an unbringing marked by abandonment and abuse by his mother that left him vulnerable to being turned into a murderous disciple of John Allen Muhammad, who has been convicted of similar charges and sentenced to die.

Leslie Malvo, Malvo's father, took the stand earlier in the day to describe his son's early life. The Jamaican stonemason wept openly as he recalled happy times of buying grape-nut ice cream for his toddler son and flying toy propeller airplanes with him. He spoke of a little boy greeting him with a plea for kisses when he came home from work.

"He would say, `Daddy if I don't kiss you we won't be friends,'" Leslie Malvo said.

But that was before Malvo's mother took away their son, hiding him so that he would rarely see his father.

When it was Cooley's turn for closing arguments, he gathered his notes and placed them on a lectern a few feet from the jury box, leaning in to beg for Malvo's life. Perhaps because he had little to work with in this case - Malvo has acknowledged participating in the crimes - Cooley didn't mention his client's name for 10 minutes, instead speaking as a parent worried about who his children have as friends.

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