By Ernesto Londono
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 9, 2006
Sniper Lee Boyd Malvo offered a tearful apology yesterday to relatives of the six people he and his accomplice killed in Montgomery County, minutes before he was sentenced to six consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"I'm truly sorry, grieved and ashamed of what I've done to the families and friends," Malvo said as he listed the names of the Montgomery victims he and John Allen Muhammad shot from afar with a powerful rifle in October 2002. "Each of you relive this every morning, every birthday, every anniversary, every time you look in your children's eyes."
A handful of relatives attended the afternoon hearing in Rockville, which marked the last chapter of the snipers' legal proceedings in Maryland.
Malvo said he was most haunted by the death of Ride On bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, the sniper's last victim. According to Malvo's testimony, his death was the only fatal shooting in Maryland in which Malvo pulled the trigger.
"I thought of his sons, who just for once would like to play basketball with their father," Malvo said. "Just one more time see his face."
Sonia Wills, Johnson's mother, stood a few feet from Malvo in the well of the courtroom, looked into his eyes and spoke in a low, booming voice.
"I must say for the past four years I have hated you," Wills said. "Right now, I, Conrad's mother, forgive you. . . . I have to, my dear. I can't go on hating you. That won't bring Conrad back."
Victoria Snider, sister of sniper victim James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, 39, was more stern.
"I have watched Lee Boyd Malvo express enjoyment of killing, to feeling bad about it, to admitting killing my brother, Sonny, to denying it," she said. "I say to you, Mr. Malvo: You were old enough to know right from wrong."
The other four Montgomery victims were Lori Lewis Rivera, 25; Sarah Ramos, 34; Premkumar A. Walekar, 54; and James D. Martin, 55.
Prosecutors and Malvo's attorneys said Malvo, 21, has experienced a transformation during his months in Maryland. They said his remorse is genuine, and they commended him for cooperating with prosecutors in Muhammad's May trial in Montgomery, in which Malvo took the stand to offer the first public, firsthand account of the shootings.
"Before the Montgomery County trial of Mr. Muhammad, we certainly knew the what," Assistant State's Attorney Vivek Chopra said. "But it was only after Mr. Muhammad's testimony that we knew so much more about the how and the why."
Malvo testified that he fell under the spell of Muhammad as a young and vulnerable teenager who had all but been abandoned by his parents in Jamaica. The elder sniper took him on a cross-country trip in 2002 that began in Washington state, terrorized the District and its suburbs for three weeks in October and ended in suburban Maryland, where they were arrested. Malvo told law enforcement officials in Maryland this year that the pair shot 27 people, 17 of whom died.
Malvo has cooperated with law enforcement officials in recent months to close some of the unresolved cases in jurisdictions outside the Washington area. Last month, he met with detectives from Tucson, who offered him immunity from prosecution in exchange for a detailed account of the slaying of a man shot while playing golf in March 2002.
William C. Brennan, one of Malvo's attorneys, said yesterday that he had been contacted by authorities in another state where the pair are suspects in a homicide. He declined to identify the case but highlighted Malvo's continued willingness to cooperate with law enforcement officials.
Malvo and Muhammad were also convicted of murder in separate trials in Virginia in 2003. Muhammad, who is on death row in Virginia, acted as his own attorney during the month-long Maryland trial, was convicted of six counts of murder and was also given six consecutive life terms. Malvo was sentenced to life in prison in Virginia.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan praised Malvo for cooperating with authorities and for apologizing to victims' relatives. He told him that crossing paths with Muhammad had significantly worsened his already bleak prospects.
"You could have been somebody different. You could have been better," Ryan said. "What you are is a convicted murderer. You will think of that for the rest of your life. You knowingly, willfully and voluntarily participated in the cowardly murders of innocent, defenseless human beings."