By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Sniper Lee Boyd Malvo formally took responsibility yesterday for his role in the October 2002 sniper shootings in Montgomery County, pleading guilty to six counts of first-degree murder.
His attorneys said that before Malvo's scheduled Nov. 9 sentencing hearing, they will try to reach a "global resolution," which presumably would entail his pleading guilty to slayings and shootings in other parts of the country where he is a suspect.
If such a deal is reached, Malvo, 21, could benefit by being allowed to serve time in a federal prison rather than a maximum-security penitentiary in Virginia, where he was first convicted of murder. Although defense lawyers raised the prospect of such an agreement, no negotiations appear to be underway.
Malvo, dressed in a green prison jumpsuit, said little during the 30-minute hearing in Rockville. He spoke softly, answering "yes" or "no" to questions that are routinely asked in plea hearings to ensure that the admission of guilt is being offered freely and legitimately.
"This is an articulate, intelligent kid who was manipulated and cajoled by a monster, a coward," said attorney Timothy J. Sullivan, referring to Malvo's fellow sniper, John Allen Muhammad. "Malvo is making attempts to redeem himself and to move forward."
Malvo pleaded guilty in the slayings of James D. Martin, 55; James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, 39; Premkumar A. Walekar, 54; Sarah Ramos, 34; Lori Lewis Rivera, 25; and Conrad Johnson, 35.
Malvo's attorneys spoke only broadly about his "legal problems" outside the Washington area and declined to describe their efforts to reach a sweeping plea agreement.
"The jurisdictions know who they are, and they know where we are," said William Brennan, Malvo's other attorney.
In June, The Washington Post reported that Malvo told law enforcement officials in the spring that he and Muhammad committed two homicides and two nonfatal shootings outside the area that had not been publicly attributed to them. The slayings happened in California and Texas; the other shootings took place in Florida and Louisiana.
Muhammad and Malvo killed 10 people in the Washington area and wounded four. Including the four crimes Malvo cited this spring, the pair are suspects in seven homicides and six nonfatal shootings that took place before they reached the Washington area.
Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said his office made no concessions to Malvo in exchange for his guilty plea in the Maryland cases. Prosecutors intend to ask Montgomery Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan to sentence Malvo to six terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. His punishment in Maryland is likely to be merely symbolic, however, because he is serving life without the possibility of parole in Virginia.
Gansler said a plea hearing on a deal that would allow Malvo to serve time in a federal prison could provide answers and closure to dozens of victims' relatives.
"It's not about Mr. Malvo," Gansler said. "In our view, the families of victims in other states totally deserve the right to know what happened and why."
If there is no deal, Malvo is expected to return to southwestern Virginia's Red Onion State Prison, which holds some of the state's most dangerous criminals and has been criticized by human rights organizations for what they say are severe conditions.
Gansler said his office won't try to persuade Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to relinquish custody of Malvo. But he said the office could assist in consolidating dozens of crimes in numerous jurisdictions into a single plea hearing if a deal is reached. Such a plea hearing should happen in the Washington area, Gansler said.
Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Kaine, said no one has formally approached the governor with a proposal that would allow Malvo to serve time outside Virginia. He said Montgomery prosecutors raised the idea this year with the governor, which triggered stern opposition from the Virginia prosecutors in the sniper trials.
"Their wishes carry considerable weight in this discussion," Hall said, referring to Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. and Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert.
Ebert said criminals shouldn't be allowed to choose their prison.
"I know Malvo doesn't like Red Onion," Ebert said. "He should have thought about that before he came here and committed these crimes."
Ebert said he still has "serious doubts" about Malvo's credibility and thinks that relatives of victims in other jurisdictions "got all the answers they're going to get."
A federal indictment encompassing the unsettled shootings could be an alternative to a plea deal at the state level. But that option seems unlikely.
"This is a state case," FBI Special Agent Michelle Crnkovich said yesterday. "Any deals they're making are being made by the states."
She said FBI agents assisted Montgomery prosecutors during Muhammad's trial but are not actively involved in the case.
Tom Reedy, a spokesman for the Denton County Sheriff's Office in North Texas -- which is investigating the May 27, 2002, shooting of landscaper Billy G. Dillon, one of the crimes Malvo cited in the spring -- said the case remains unsolved.
"We haven't had any movement on that," Reedy said. "We haven't heard anything from anybody."
Cheryll Witz, the daughter of 60-year-old Jerry R. Taylor, who was fatally shot March 19, 2002, at a Tucson golf course, said she would like her day in court. Malvo told investigators that he and Muhammad were responsible for killing Taylor.
"I really would like an answer as to why and an 'I'm sorry,' " Witz said. "I would like to know that he's remorseful for what he did. You can tell that someone is truly remorseful by looking in their eyes."
Malvo testified against Muhammad during his month-long trial in Maryland in May, providing the first public firsthand account of the shooting spree that the two carried out while traveling in an old Chevy Caprice. The pair shot people in public places with a high-powered rifle, often pulling the trigger from the trunk of the car. Muhammad, 45, has been convicted of murder in Virginia and Maryland for his role in the shootings and is awaiting execution in Virginia.
Malvo said he was indoctrinated by Muhammad, whom he described as a cunning man bent on killing scores of people and then moving to Canada to train dozens of young killers.
Muhammad, who represented himself, described Maryland's case against him as a law enforcement conspiracy. Malvo said he was acknowledging his role because he is no longer under Muhammad's spell.