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Malvo To Admit Guilt in Va. Cases

Defense Lawyer Says Spotsylvania Won't Seek Death

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2004; Page A01

Lawyers for convicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo said yesterday that they have negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors in Spotsylvania County that would give him another life prison sentence and rule out the death penalty.

If the agreement goes through, Malvo will withdraw the appeal of his first conviction, in Fairfax County, which carried a life sentence without parole, his attorneys said.


Lee Boyd Malvo, shown during a March court appearance, has agreed to plead guilty to a slaying and a wounding in Spotsylvania, his lawyers say. (Davis Turner -- Reuters)




The deal with Spotsylvania does not affect prosecutions in any of the five other jurisdictions where Malvo faces murder charges for his role in the October 2002 sniper shootings. Of those jurisdictions, Prince William County; Montgomery, Ala.; and Baton Rouge, La., have pending capital murder counts against Malvo; Maryland and the District do not have the death penalty for juveniles. Malvo was 17 when the shootings occurred.

Prince William prosecutors have said that, before launching a prosecution of Malvo, they will await a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of executing juveniles. A pending case on the issue is scheduled for oral argument next month.

A court date has been set for Oct. 26 in Spotsylvania, and an order has been entered to move Malvo, 19, from the Red Onion State Prison in southwest Virginia, said Circuit Court Chief Deputy Clerk Cynthia Jessup.

Malvo's guilty plea would be for the Oct. 11, 2002, slaying of Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, and the Oct. 4, 2002, wounding of Caroline Seawell, then 43. Bridges was a father of six from Philadelphia who was on his way home from a business trip when he was shot while pumping gas at a station just off Interstate 95. He was the eighth sniper slaying victim in the Washington area.

Seawell had just finished shopping for Halloween decorations at a Michaels craft store when she was shot as she stood behind her van in the parking lot. She testified at Muhammad's and Malvo's trials last fall.

Michael S. Arif, one of Malvo's attorneys, confirmed that Malvo intends to plead guilty to one count of capital murder and one count of malicious wounding. In return, Arif said, Spotsylvania Commonwealth's Attorney William F. Neely has agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Neely did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment. In March, when reports of a plea agreement with Malvo first surfaced, Neely said that he planned to prosecute Malvo after Prince William tried its case.

"It's silly to engage in overkill," Neely said in March. "You can only serve one death sentence, and you can only serve one life sentence."

Arif said the deal is not complete because Malvo has not signed the necessary paperwork, which Arif did not expect to be a problem.

He added, "I only wish that it was a universal settlement" of all the pending sniper-related cases.

Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, 43, were arrested in October 2002 after a three-week series of shootings in the Washington area that left 10 dead and three wounded. Authorities then linked the pair to eight more shootings earlier in 2002, four of them fatal, including a slaying in Tacoma, Wash., that Malvo's attorneys said he committed.

Malvo was convicted last fall in the Oct. 14, 2002, death of FBI analyst Linda Franklin in Fairfax County, but the jury elected to impose a life sentence rather than death. Muhammad was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in the slaying of Dean H. Meyers in Prince William. Fairfax is now prosecuting Muhammad in Franklin's death.

At Malvo's trial, defense lawyers said the teenager also admitted fatally shooting Montgomery County bus driver Conrad Johnson on Oct. 22, 2002, but said he was not the triggerman in any other sniper shootings. Montgomery, which was the scene of five other fatal shootings, has six murder charges pending against Malvo and Muhammad, far more than any other jurisdiction.

But when U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft decided where to conduct the first sniper trials, he sent the two suspects to Virginia, which allows the death penalty for juveniles as well as adults.

Arif said Montgomery prosecutors have not shown any interest in cutting a deal to resolve their charges against Malvo. A spokesman for Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler did not return a call yesterday seeking comment.

Murder charges also are pending against Malvo in the District, where one man was killed during the sniper shootings; in Montgomery, Ala., where two women were shot, one fatally, on Sept. 21, 2002; and Baton Rouge, where a woman was fatally shot Sept. 23, 2002. Malvo has not been charged in two other slayings, the one in Tacoma and another in Atlanta on Sept. 21, 2002, despite ballistics evidence linking the snipers to the cases, because of a lack of witnesses, authorities have said.

Staff writer Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.


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