Lee Boyd Malvo pleaded guilty yesterday to two sniper shootings in Spotsylvania County and agreed to drop his pending appeals, ensuring that he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
In an emotionless 15-minute hearing that lacked any of the drama of previous court proceedings in the sniper cases, Malvo admitted that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him in the fatal shooting of Kenneth Bridges and the wounding of Caroline Seawell during the October 2002 series of shootings that terrified the Washington region.
Walter Pennino Jr., working at a Lions Club pumpkin sale, said he remembered how the sniper shootings scared the volunteers in 2002.
(Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)
Spotsylvania Commonwealth's Attorney William F. Neely said afterward that he chose not to seek the death penalty against Malvo because the plea brings certainty to the victims, because the cost of a capital prosecution would be prohibitive and because he did not think a county jury would order the execution of Malvo, who was a juvenile at the time of the shootings.
Neely also announced that he does not plan to prosecute the other sniper, John Allen Muhammad, saying he believes the death penalty conviction won last year by Prince William County will stand up on appeal. If it doesn't, Neely said, he could always prosecute Muhammad then.
Yesterday's brief court proceeding and the sparse crowds at the Circuit Court building were a dramatic departure from Malvo's last public appearance in December, when he was sentenced in Chesapeake for a sniper shooting in Fairfax County. The 70 seats in Circuit Court Judge William H. Ledbetter Jr.'s courtroom were taken primarily by members of the media and employees of the county, and an entire 200-seat auditorium available across the street for public overflow was empty.
Malvo, 19, wearing a bright orange prison jumpsuit and not the sweaters and button-down shirts he wore during his trial last year, gave polite, soft-spoken answers when Ledbetter asked whether he understood his pleas.
Malvo was asked first about his guilty plea to capital murder charges for shooting Bridges, 53, a Philadelphia father of six who was pumping gas at an Exxon station when he was hit in the upper back.
"Guilty," Malvo said.
The word was offered a bit more loudly the second time, when Malvo said he had shot Seawell, then 43, as she loaded her minivan outside the Michaels craft store at the Spotsylvania Mall.
The agreement allowed Malvo to enter what is called an Alford plea, meaning he does not actually admit guilt but concedes that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him. The Alford plea has the effect of a guilty plea and conviction, but Malvo's attorneys noted the distinction and said it was important because their client still faces charges in Hanover County, Va., the District and Montgomery County as well as in Alabama and Louisiana.
Malvo declined an opportunity to speak in court, but lawyers Craig S. Cooley and Michael Arif said he is continuing to work on his education in prison and is drawing and writing poetry.
"He's progressing, and he's getting out from his spell, and that continues," Arif said. He was referring to the defense argument at the Fairfax trial that Muhammad had brainwashed Malvo.
Yesterday's proceeding takes off the table one of the two potential death penalty trials against Malvo in Virginia; Prince William prosecutors are waiting for the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court decision about the constitutionality of executing killers who were 16 or 17 at the time of their crimes. Malvo has been sentenced to life in prison for the shooting of Linda Franklin outside the Seven Corners Home Depot store in Fairfax. The jury in that case declined to sentence Malvo to death, even after convicting him on two counts of capital murder.
Malvo was sentenced to two additional life terms yesterday in the Spotsylvania shootings. He has been serving his sentence at the Red Onion maximum security prison in Wise County.