Malvo's lawyers seek plea deal

Young sniper reportedly seeks prison change for admitting to shootings

October 11, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

ROCKVILLE -- Attorneys for Washington-area sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, who pleaded guilty yesterday to six murders in Montgomery County, are trying to forge a wide agreement that would have him also admit his role in other 2002 shootings in other states.

The deal has the potential to give Malvo what he reportedly wants -- a move from Virginia's Red Onion prison to a federal penitentiary -- if it includes a plea to the fatal shooting in Washington, D.C., to which he and John Allen Muhammad have been linked.

Malvo's lawyers said yesterday they will move quickly to try to reach an agreement by his scheduled Nov. 9 sentencing in Rockville, where prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentence of six consecutive prison terms of life without parole.

"We are about to hopefully embark on some candid and frank discussions with some local prosecutors," said William C. Brennan, Malvo's lawyer. He said he will try in the coming weeks to "to effectuate a global resolution to Mr. Malvo's legal problems," but he and prosecutors declined to specify which shootings might be involved.

Charges are pending against Malvo and Muhammad in Alabama, Louisiana and Washington, D.C. The pair is suspected -- in some cases because Malvo reportedly told police about them -- in shootings in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Washington state.

Malvo, 21, is serving a life prison term without parole in Virginia for a fatal sniper shooting there. Muhammad is on Virginia's death row for a fatal sniper shooting in that state and has been sentenced to six life prison terms without parole for his role in the Montgomery County slayings of James D. Martin, 55; James L. "Sonny" Buchanan Jr., 39; Premkumar A. Walekar, 54; Sarah Ramos, 34; Lori Lewis-Rivera, 25; and Conrad E. Johnson, 35.

Buchanan's sister, Vickie Snider, was the only relative of a sniper victim to see Malvo plead guilty yesterday before Judge James L. Ryan. She said she has no opinion on where Malvo serves his time, just that he remains incarcerated.

"I don't care whether it's a federal prison or Red Onion" prison in Virginia, said Snider, whose brother was the first of four people fatally shot on Oct. 3, 2002, in Montgomery County. Buchanan was killed while cutting the grass for an auto dealership in Rockville.

More family members of victims are likely to attend the sentencing, when they may speak in court. They also may provide written statements in advance.

Snider said her heart breaks for the families who have yet to hear their murdered loved ones formally named as among Malvo and Muhammad's victims.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, the Democratic candidate for Maryland attorney general, agreed: "I would imagine it would give them more peace. They have the right to know what happened."

Malvo cooperated with Maryland authorities, providing details about crimes. He testified in May at Muhammad's trial, breaking his public silence about his role in the crimes, saying his mentor turned him into a killer.

Timothy J. Sullivan, Malvo's other lawyer, said that the native Jamaican would like to "redeem himself." No longer under Muhammad's sway, "he is growing every single day in sadness about the life he has wasted," Sullivan said.

An arrangement to shift Malvo into the federal prison system would hinge on authorities in Virginia, where Malvo is serving multiple life sentences for sniper shootings. Virginia authorities sent Malvo to Maryland for trial as part of a pact that says he has to be returned, Gansler said.

"It's really up to Virginia," Gansler said, adding that his office would not be involved in efforts to reach an expansive agreement for Malvo.

But last year, when the subject was first broached, the two Virginia prosecutors who obtained convictions in trials against Malvo and Muhammad vehemently objected to what they viewed as letting Malvo pick his prison.

"I don't think any defendant should be able to choose the venue of his incarceration," Paul Ebert, the commonwealth's attorney for Prince William County who obtained a death sentence for Muhammad that is now on appeal, said yesterday. "He should have thought of that when he came to Virginia to commit his crimes."

Kevin Hall, spokesman for Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, said the prosecutors' opinions "would be a significant factor if the governor were to be asked to consider such a request." Told that Malvo reportedly might prefer federal prison accommodations to those in Virginia, Hall replied, "He hunted people. Tough."

A deal also would hinge on Malvo reaching an agreement with federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C. They said they cannot discuss any open case.

Ellen Brooks, the district attorney for Montgomery County, Ala., where authorities believe Malvo and Muhammad killed one woman and wounded another as they closed a liquor store Sept. 21, 2002, said she has not heard anything in months about Malvo.

"Certainly, we are interested in a resolution to our case," she said.

In the Washington area, 10 people were killed, three wounded and the region terrified by sniper shootings during the fall of 2002. Malvo maintained that he was following Muhammad's plan to extort $10 million from the government to end the terror. At his Maryland trial last spring. Muhammad claimed innocence, saying he had come from Washington state to reclaim the three children he had lost in a bitter divorce.

Though Malvo initially said he did all the shootings, he later said he took full responsibility to shield Muhammad. He testified that he shot and wounded two people and killed only the final victim, bus driver Conrad E. Johnson, on Oct. 22, 2002, serving as Muhammad's spotter in the rest of the shootings.

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