Malvo sentenced to life, no parole

Virginia jury spares life of teen-ager who took part in '02 sniper killings

Saved by youth, troubled past

Montgomery prosecutor says he hopes Maryland gets chance to try Malvo

December 24, 2003|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Swayed by the youthfulness and troubled past of Lee Boyd Malvo, a jury voted yesterday to spare the life of the junior member of the sniper duo whose murderous rampage around the nation's capital last year left 10 people dead, three more wounded and millions fearing they would be next in the sniper's cross hairs.

The 18-year-old Jamaican native at first looked blankly at his lawyers, but then offered a wan smile after the jury read the decision that will imprison him for life without parole for capital murder in the death of Linda Franklin, 47, an FBI analyst shot at random.

Relatives of murder victims filed stone-faced out of the courtroom, with the exception of Franklin's daughter, Katrina Hannum, who wept.

"He's very lucky that he looks a lot younger than he is," said lead prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr., the Fairfax County commonwealth's attorney, his voice edged in bitterness in a clear reference to Malvo's crew-necked prep school-style courtroom attire. "You could make the child argument very effectively, which they did."

The sentence was a blow to the prosecution in a case that was part of the pair that Attorney General John Ashcroft specifically sent to Virginia to obtain a death sentence.

The most tenured prosecutor in Virginia, Horan also blamed the looming Christmas holiday in part for Malvo eluding the death penalty that he eloquently sought in his closing argument.

But jurors said last night that it was Malvo's age, background and dominance by fellow sniper John Allen Muhammad that led to their difficult decision.

With Malvo facing murder charges in at least four more jurisdictions and charges pending elsewhere, Horan said he is "sure" more trials are in the offing - for both Malvo and Muhammad, 42, who was sentenced to death last month in a Prince William County murder as the mastermind of the attacks.

Horan suggested Prince William County, whose chief prosecutor has shipped more men to death row, Muhammad included, than any of his counterparts in the state.

One possibility is that Fairfax and Prince William counties will trade defendants or that they will be tried elsewhere in Virginia - the Justice Department sent the cases to Virginia because both were death-eligible in a state with a strong tradition of death sentences.

Other jurisdictions - whether Maryland, with its weak death penalty and no death sentence for juvenile killers, or Louisiana and Alabama - might have to wait, if they ever get to try the convicted snipers.

Virginia is in the minority of states that allow executions of murderers who killed while they were under the age of 18. Three of the 89 people who have been executed in Virginia since 1976 were under the age of 18 when they committed murder.

Families disappointed

Disappointment reigned with relatives of two Montgomery County victims and the survivor of a Prince George's County shooting.

"I can't think of another case that would be more deserving of capital punishment," said Victoria Snider, who in her days in court repeatedly heard a tape of Malvo laughing and making engine noises as he confessed to killing her brother, James "Sonny" Buchanan, while Buchanan mowed the lawn of a Rockville auto dealership on Oct. 3, 2002.

Neither William "Ted" Franklin, who clutched his head as his ghastly wails of "my wife has been shot" boomed in the courtroom when the 911 tape of his call was played for jurors, nor other Franklin relatives commented.

"There were two people who committed the ultimate crime. One got the ultimate penalty and one didn't. I ask you why," said Paul LaRuffa, who was shot and robbed in Clinton, Md., in September 2002 - and whose laptop computer and cash helped the snipers move ahead with their plans. "I'm lucky. I'm here talking to you. I don't think Malvo did any less than what Muhammad did."

The eight-woman and four-man jury that deliberated about nine hours over two days appeared exhausted as members filed somberly into the courtroom just before 4 p.m. to end a 27-day trial that put more than 130 witnesses and more than 300 items of evidence before them.

Compounding the drama was that they failed to fill out a necessary form and had to be sent back into the jury room, but emerged only to be returned a second time to circle their verdict on a form.

The first vote was 7-5 for life, two jurors said in interviews last night.

A `difficult journey'

Jim Wolfcale, the jury foreman and a minister, said he was speaking for the jury when he referred to "an extremely difficult journey" and extended sympathy to the grieving families.

The city of Chesapeake had a counselor ready to speak with jurors immediately after the verdict.

"This case was both mentally challenging and emotionally exhausting," Wolfcale said.

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