Defense's Closing Argument During Penalty Phase of Malvo Trial

Monday, December 22, 2003; 5:47 PM

The following is the transcript of the Dec. 22 closing argument by defense attorney Craig S. Cooley during the penalty phase in the capital murder trial of Lee Boyd Malvo. This is from a preliminary transcript of court proceedings compiled by court reporters Alvis & Cheesebrew, Inc.

MR. COOLEY: May it please the court. For those of us who are parents or grandparents, and certainly for those of you who are entrusted with school children either now or in the past, and those of you who have been entrusted with parishioners--we all know that our greatest concern for our children, our greatest worry is who our children will come to associate with. And our worries are greatest not when those children are 9, 10, and 11 or when they are 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, but our greatest worries are when they get to be 15, 16, and 17, because that's the point in time where they begin to search for themselves. It's a time that makes them the most susceptible to peer pressure and to outside influence. It is a point in time where they are the most vulnerable.

The person we are today, who we--who each of us is today is not of our making. It has much more to do with those folks who helped to shape us. If we're fortunate, really fortunate, we've had two parents or at least one loving parent to nurture us, to protect us, to teach us, and to be constants in our lives, both in their physical presence and in their consistency. We are shaped. There's no such thing as a self-made man or a self-made woman. We cannot write or paint or own histories in the first person. We cannot describe our own lives without describing our interactions with other people.

Many of us still see ourselves and gauge ourselves by who we were in high school, what kind of athlete, what group we hung with, what friends we made, what our status was then. Those were the formative years 15, 16, 17, and 18. And yet many of us, as of our current ages, still gauge ourselves through that. Our human intercourse defines us much more than our genetics. Our minds and our hearts are inevitably and intrinsically entwined with those of us around us who we either trust or we fear, we love, or admire or fall prey to. So it is with us, and so it is with Lee Malvo.

Children are not born evil, and when they commit evil acts, you can almost always trace those acts to the influences and acts that have been performed against them. And almost always those are acts and influences that precede any transgression by that child. As are we all, Lee is a product of his environment. Now, in the course of this trial, I hope that you have been able to see and come to know that Lee was uniquely susceptible to becoming attached to a father figure in the charismatic personage of John Muhammad. Lee's childhood was one of abandonment--ripped from the father that he loved with Leslie Malvo at age 5 1/2 to be moved and moved and moved again. And by age 14, he had attended 10 schools and had almost an uncountable number of caretakers, and unlike some who have had frequent moves in schools and moved around, Lee had no parent whatsoever. Some who move around have the benefit of a guiding and loving parent--not so with Lee. Lee's mother was abusive, and she was absent, and she returned only to uproot him again and again to move him, to abuse him again, and then leave again. She denied him a father, and every time he began to form a bond, whether it be with Mr. Lawrence or Mr. Maxwell or Marvin Hodges, who you did not meet, or even with Simone Powell, Una James severed the tie and moved him again. And by the time she abandoned Lee in Antigua, where he had absolutely no family base or support system, he was desperate for a father. He was, in a phrase, "ripe for the picking."

There's a sign -- there's a quote by Mother Teresa, one of Rev. Archer's heroes. It says: "One of the worst devotions is to be nobody to nobody."

Lee saw John Muhammad and came to love in him not an evil man but a loving parent, a man who was good to other children, a man who went out of his way to do kind things for people. Lee did not attach himself to some evil personage. Lee saw John Muhammad as a provider, as a person who lavished attention on him for the first time in his life and a man whose most military expertise and exploits in the special forces seemed consistent with his military bearing and his physical fitness.

You heard from Mildred Muhammad. She said John was a magnet for children. You heard from the Douglases where John Muhammad moved in with Lee or brought Lee in to live in their home and from "Yellow" Jerome Martin and his wife, Leonie Martin, from Antigua. And they all describe John Muhammad as a pied piper--that he had an attraction that brought children to him, and none more so than Lee. Remember that when he took Lee physically into his home and into his family, John Muhammad gave the appearance to all-- to mature adults that you heard from, as well as this impressionable 5-foot-3-inch child. And all thought he was a man of kindness and had many admirable traits. Lee's adoration of John Muhammad was justified, and there was no way for Lee to know that far into the future Muhammad's obsession with the loss of his children would metastasize into serial murder.

How quickly Lee fell prey to that indoctrination is clearly a function of his susceptibility in the first two months that he knew and came to live with John Muhammad. He Americanized his dialect. He eliminated even a hint of his Jamaican history. He converted from a 7th Day Adventist, and you heard from Rev. King his commitment to the faith. His commitment to Christianity was such that Rev. King didn't doubt it in the least. He walked two miles to the baptismal service carrying his clothes so that he could look good and be respectful in that service.

He converted from 7th Day Adventist within two months to whatever particular sect of teachings of Islam that Mr. Muhammad had for him, and all of that was done to imitate and to emulate and to impress the man that called him son and invited him to call him dad. When John Muhammad delivered Lee to the promise land of the United States and offers adoption to him and the wonderful educational opportunities that this country and particularly Bellingham High School had to offer, he had demonstrated his constancy to Lee, something never before in Lee's life, and still there was not the slightest suggestion of what was to come. By the time Lee came to Bellingham, Wash., the training and the desensitizing to firearms practice and all that went into it began.

Lee's devotion, his indoctrination, indeed as described, his idolization of John Muhammad was absolute. Why wouldn't he accept lock, stock, and barrel these teachings of social injustice, of social misdeeds by the government? Why wouldn't he accept what Mr. Muhammad had to say to him when every single thing that Mr. Muhammad had promised him before had come true? Mr. Muhammad had delivered. Word is bond, and the degree of that indoctrination is such that in spite of efforts and in spite of time, there will be relapses. There will be times when Lee returns to that questioning and that indoctrination. That's what the experts told you. Dr. Martin said relapses are quite common. It's not something that is going to happen overnight. You take John Muhammad away from Lee, and suddenly, Lee's entire thought process from that indoctrination of two full years from age 15 to 17 simply changes overnight. It doesn't.

John Muhammad's powers of persuasion have been commented on to you by a great number of witnesses, but none more eloquently than his older son, Lindbergh Williams. He said, "My father has a way of getting into your head. He convinced me that I had been abused and rejected by my mother and that I should now reject her and stay with him, and if my mother had not been a strong woman, if my mother had not fought for me, then it would have been me rather than Lee Malvo in that car with John Muhammad in October of 2002." What a precursor of what happened to Lee. What a predictor.

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