A man who as a teenager participated in a terrifying killing spree that left more than a dozen people dead has been granted a new sentencing hearing in Virginia.
Lee Boyd Malvo, now 33, was sentenced in 2004 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a series of four murders he and John Allen Muhammad committed as the Beltway snipers. Malvo was just 17 at the time of the slayings, and Muhammad, his mentor, was 41.
The snipers terrorized the greater Washington, D.C., area during a three-week span in 2002 that saw them kill four people and injure three others in Virginia. Another six people were gunned down in the Maryland suburbs in that same time frame.
The pair was captured in October 2002 as they slept at a rest stop in a Chevy Caprice they had modified so they could fire a rifle, undetected, through a hole in the car’s trunk. The Washington Post reported that Muhammad and Malvo were tied to another 11 shootings across the country, five of them deadly.
In the years since Malvo’s and Muhammad’s convictions, and Muhammad’s subsequent 2009 execution for his Virginia crimes, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that defendants who committed serious crimes while under the age of 18 cannot be sentenced to death.
They also cannot be sentenced to a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole, the ruling stated. The new laws became retroactive in 2016, meaning that sentences of death or life without parole that were legal at the time they were handed down could now be vacated.
A three-member panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled on Thursday that Malvo falls into that category and vacated his four life sentences. His case has been remanded to a lower court for resentencing.
“To be clear, the crimes committed by Malvo and John Muhammad were the most heinous random acts of premeditated violence conceivable, destroying lives and families and terrorizing the entire Washington, D.C., metropolitan area for over six weeks, instilling mortal fear daily in the citizens of that community,” Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote in the ruling. “But Malvo was 17 years old when he committed the murders, and he has the retroactive benefit of new constitutional rules that treat juveniles differently for sentencing.
“We make this ruling not with any satisfaction but to sustain the law. As for Malvo, who knows but God how he will bear the future.”
See the appeals court’s entire ruling below.
The order for a new sentencing applies only to Malvo’s Virginia crimes. He also pleaded guilty to six murders in Maryland, where he was given six life sentences.
Thursday’s ruling does not affect his prison time in Maryland, according to The Washington Post. A Montgomery County judge last August upheld those sentences because they were not mandatory life terms.
A spokeswoman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told the Post that his staff attorneys plan to “review the decision closely and decide how best to proceed in a way that ensures this convicted mass murderer faces justice for his heinous crimes.” The attorney general can either ask the entire appeals court for a rehearing, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or go forward with the new sentencing hearing.
If the sentencing hearing goes forward, Malvo could still be sentenced to life in prison. The appeals court ruling indicated that it depends on whether the district court finds that Malvo’s crimes reflected “permanent incorrigibility” or the “transient immaturity of youth.”
The appeals court’s ruling listed a timeline of most of Malvo and Muhammad’s crimes:
Sept. 5, 2002: Malvo shot a pizza restaurant owner six times in Clinton, Maryland, and stole the man’s cash and laptop. The man survived and, according to the FBI, his laptop, which was found in the snipers’ car when they were captured, was used to plot out attack sites and getaway routes.
- Sept. 15, 2002: Malvo shot a man in Clinton as the victim closed a liquor store for the night.
- Sept. 21, 2002: Muhammad used a high-powered Bushmaster rifle to target two women closing down a liquor store in Montgomery, Alabama. Claudine Parker, 52, was killed and her coworker, Kellie Adams, was wounded by a gunshot to the back of her neck and into her jaw.
Adams told The New York Times shortly after the shooting that she thought she had been struck by lightning. Witnesses, including two police officers, spotted a man rifling through the women’s purses before escaping during a short foot chase, the Times reported.
A blue sedan was also spotted near the scene, which helped lead investigators to the snipers after Malvo’s fingerprint, found on the page of a magazine he dropped in Montgomery, identified him as a suspect.
- Sept. 23, 2002: A Baton Rouge, Louisiana, woman, identified as 45-year-old Hong Im Ballenger, was killed as she closed the store where she worked. Again, witnesses later placed Malvo at the scene, fleeing with the victim’s purse.
- Oct. 2, 2002: Back in the D.C. area, the snipers shot and killed James Martin, 55, in a Montgomery County, Maryland grocery store parking lot.
Oct. 3, 2002: Five people were gunned down, four at different sites in Montgomery County and a fifth in Washington, D.C. James “Sonny” Buchanan, 39, was killed as he mowed some grass; taxi driver Prem Kumar Walekar, 54, was killed while gassing up his cab; Sarah Ramos, 34, was killed as she sat on a bus bench and read a book; Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, was killed as she vacuumed her van at a gas station.
The four Montgomery County victims were killed in the morning within a span of about two hours, according to authorities. Around 9:20 p.m. that same night, Pascal Charlot, 72, was shot while walking in D.C.
- Oct. 4, 2002: A woman was shot and seriously wounded as she loaded goods into her car in a Spotsylvania County, Virginia, parking lot.
- Oct. 7, 2002: A 13-year-old boy was shot and wounded in Prince George’s County, Maryland, as he went to school.
- Oct 9, 2002: The snipers shot and killed Dean Harold Myers, 53, as he put gas in his vehicle at a Prince William County, Virginia, gas station.
- Oct. 12, 2002: The snipers killed FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot in Fairfax County, Virginia.
- Oct. 19, 2002: They shot and seriously injured a man leaving a restaurant in Ashland, Virginia.
- Oct. 22, 2002: The snipers shot and killed bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, in Montgomery County. The bus driver, who was gunned down as he stood on the steps of his bus, was the last of their victims.
- Oct. 24, 2002: The pair was apprehended at a rest stop in Frederick County, Maryland.
The shootings on the appeals court’s list are not all of the crimes that Malvo and Muhammad have been linked to, and Malvo has said that the pair shot more people than those investigators have identified.
Malvo told Virginia investigators after his arrest that he and Muhammad, who he considered his father, acted as a sniper team in order to extort $10 million from the “media and the government,” the appeals court ruling stated. He initially confessed to being the shooter in 10 of the incidents.
When testifying at trial in Fairfax County, however, Malvo admitted only to shooting the 13-year-old boy in Prince George’s County and the Montgomery County bus driver who was killed. All others, Muhammad shot, the teen claimed.
At that point, Malvo’s defense team was asserting an insanity defense, alleging that the boy, who had an abusive and lonely childhood in Jamaica and Antigua, was indoctrinated by Muhammad, who took him under his wing when Malvo was 15. Muhammad had taken his own three children to Antigua without their mother’s knowledge, the court ruling stated.
Muhammad, a U.S. Army veteran who ultimately lost custody of his children, trained Malvo intensively in military tactics for almost a year, telling the teen that he had a plan to get his children back, the ruling stated.
Mildred Muhammad, his ex-wife, has said she believed she was the ultimate target of her former husband’s rage, CNN reported. Prosecutors during John Muhammad’s trials argued that the sniper shootings were a smoke screen to hide his goal of killing Mildred and regaining custody of their children.
Malvo told “Today” in 2012 that he was sexually abused by John Muhammad. He also described the psychological hold he said Muhammad had on him.
“I couldn’t say no,” Malvo said. “I had wanted that level of love and acceptance and consistency for all of my life and couldn’t find it. And even if unconsciously, or even in moments of short reflection, I knew that it was wrong, I did not have the willpower to say no.”
In interviews with the Post, Malvo called himself a “monster.”
“If you look up the definition, that’s what a monster is” Malvo told the newspaper. “I was a ghoul. I was a thief. I stole people’s lives. I did someone else’s bidding just because they said so. There is no rhyme or reason or sense.”
Malvo told “Today” producers that the interview would be his last about the crimes, he said he had forgiven himself for his crimes because that is the “only way (he) can live with (himself.)”
He also urged the families of the victims to find peace and forgiveness.
“Please do not allow my actions and the actions of Muhammad to hold you hostage and continue to victimize you for the rest of your life,” Malvo said. “If you give those images and thoughts that power, it will continue to inflict that suffering over and over and over, and over and over again. Do not give me or him that much power.”
Malvo is housed at Red Onion State Prison in Pound, Virginia.
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