Stanton E. Samenow, a clinical psychologist practicing in Alexandria, is the author of “Inside the Criminal Mind.” He was appointed by Fairfax County Circuit Court to evaluate Lee Malvo in 2003.
Lee Malvo has recently been portrayed in the media as baring his soul and showing remorse for the killing spree that he and John Allen Muhammad engaged in 10 years ago. Has he truly changed from the ruthless killer I interviewed for 34 hours in 2003, prior to his conviction for the murder of Linda Franklin?
Malvo is portrayed as a victim who was turned into a victimizer. Writers depict him as a somewhat naive and emotionally deprived youth who yearned for the father that he was denied by his erratic and sometimes cruel mother. Readers are told that he found that “father” in John Muhammad, who then abused Malvo by playing on his emotions, inspiring loyalty, intimidating him and transforming him into a serial killer. Last month, Malvo revealed that he was abused in yet another manner. He chose the venue of a nationally televised program to disclose that, for nearly three years, he was sexually abused by his father figure and mentor.
Malvo said this after he flatly denied having any sexual contact with Muhammad during a series of recent interviews with The Post. Malvo told NBC’s “Today” show that he had chosen to talk about the abuse because he was “more mature now.”
Malvo has recently made statements about feeling guilty and experiencing remorse for all that he has done. He remarked to NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I dealt with that to a large extent for years” — as though the guilt was over and done with. Malvo’s comments might lead one to think that it really was alien to his personality to have participated in the atrocities that he and Muhammad committed in 2002. He professed to Lauer that he just “couldn’t say no” to Muhammad and thereby deny himself “that level of love and acceptance and consistency” that he had searched for fruitlessly throughout his life.
All of this is radically different from the Lee Malvo I spoke with nine years ago, who informed me that in his native Jamaica, “More than 90 percent of us don’t have a father,” referring to how exceptional it is for Jamaican blacks to remain together as a family unit. Although he very much wanted a relationship with his father, a relationship that his mother forbade, Malvo grew up to be independent, resourceful and determined. Confident to the point of arrogant, he did not allow others to control him. Instead, he prided himself on standing up to peers, teachers and the relatives with whom he lived. Moreover, he stole from others, including his mother; vandalized property; and became involved in fights. When speaking to me, he recalled with pride that even close friends feared his temper.
All this was long before he met John Muhammad.
Malvo told me that he remembered his mother warning him about Muhammad, “He’ll take you to your grave. He’s no good.” When he met Muhammad, Malvo did bask in the attention he was given. But he also emphasized to me that he had a mind of his own and was not easily influenced. An eager student, Malvo told me that he found that much of what Muhammad was teaching him comported with views that he already had been developing. Fascinated by weapons, he was ready to learn more.
There is no question that John Muhammad taught Lee Malvo a tremendous amount. Simply put, however, Malvo was an eager pupil.
After he was arrested in 2002, Malvo was asked by a police officer whether he had any remorse about the shootings. His answer was a terse “No.” He told me during my 2003 evaluation, “I didn’t have that remorseful phase,” and emphasized, “I like myself. I like who I am.”
As a clinical psychologist, I help people make changes in their lives. I have found that for criminals to change, it is essential that they identify and correct errors in their thinking. Malvo is extremely intelligent. He is articulate and can be very persuasive. He now professes that he has dealt with his remorse and is advising victims to go on with their lives and not allow him and Muhammad, who was executed in 2009, to have continuing power over them.
Though incarcerated for life, Malvo occasionally surfaces in the public consciousness and seems to relish center stage. Although he told “Today” that he would not grant more interviews, he continues to do what he did when I interviewed him: present himself in the best possible light.
The jury at his trial did not buy that he was “not guilty by reason of insanity” because he was brainwashed and therefore not the true Lee Malvo. And Malvo’s recent statements provide no basis to disagree with that jury’s findings.
The Post reported recently that Malvo mentioned watching an educational program I had participated in. He said that he had been emotionally affected by the show’s content in that, for the first time, he became aware that an entire community had been victimized, not just the innocent individuals that he and Muhammad shot. Perhaps in that, there is an inkling of insight, possibly of remorse. But only time will tell, and Malvo has a lot of time to think.