Prosecutors must provide John Lee Malvo's defense team with copies of the statements the teenage sniper suspect made to police about the shootings in Fairfax and Prince William counties, a judge ruled yesterday.
Malvo's attorneys said the order by Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Kimberly J. Daniel was an important first victory for the defense, which has suffered a string of legal setbacks as it prepares for a Jan. 14 hearing in which a judge will determine whether Malvo's case should be transferred to adult court, where he would face the death penalty if convicted.
"It's a victory that we actually get to see what he said," Malvo's lead attorney, Michael S. Arif, said outside the courtroom. "I'm just shooting in the dark at this point because I don't know what statements were made."
Sources have told The Washington Post that Malvo spent about seven hours speaking with investigators in Fairfax County and told them he pulled the trigger in several of the sniper attacks, including the fatal Oct. 14 shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, in the Falls Church area. Sources said Malvo gave conflicting statements about the Oct. 9 killing of Dean H. Meyers, 53, at a gas station near Manassas -- at one point saying he pulled the trigger, at another saying he did not.
Arif noted in court that several media outlets have reported the substance of Malvo's statements.
"Apparently everyone in the free world seems to have Mr. Malvo's statements except the defense," Arif told the judge. "I could not be more emphatic in suggesting to the court that those statements are very, very important. They are likely to be the crux of the case."
Malvo, 17, and John Allen Muhammad, 41, are suspected in 21 shootings -- 14 of them fatal -- across the country, including October's sniper attacks in the Washington area. Malvo is charged with capital murder in Fairfax in connection with Franklin's death, and Muhammad faces the same charge in Prince William in Meyers's killing.
During the 45-minute hearing yesterday, Malvo did not speak but appeared to listen intently. He occasionally leaned in to talk to his court-appointed guardian, Todd G. Petit. Franklin's husband, Ted, sat in his usual spot in the front row.
Daniel ruled that because of the "complexity and severity" of the case, Malvo's attorneys are immediately entitled to some, but not all, of the conversations their client had with law enforcement officials.
Daniel denied a defense request for a complete record of Malvo's statements but has given prosecutors until Jan. 8 to hand over anything Malvo said about the two Virginia shootings because they are directly related to Malvo's prosecution in Fairfax County.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Malvo and Muhammad based on two provisions of Virginia's capital punishment statute. Under one, prosecutors must prove that Malvo killed more than once in three years. Prosecutors also have invoked Virginia's new anti-terrorism law to charge that Malvo carried out the shootings to intimidate the public or influence the government.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said yesterday that he was not disappointed by the ruling and that Malvo's attorneys eventually would have access to all their client's statements.
"We would have had to do that eventually anyway," Horan said. "The courts will do what the courts will do."
Sources have told The Post that while Muhammad has remained tight-lipped, Malvo has spoken freely with investigators. Malvo told investigators that he fired the shot that critically wounded a 13-year-old middle school student in Bowie and that he pulled the trigger in the killing of a 72-year-old District man.
Horan said that he has 20 witnesses lined up to testify at Malvo's Jan. 14 hearing and that he does not intend to use Malvo's statements as evidence. He also denied that Malvo was interrogated by police for seven hours but declined to provide details on any conversations Malvo had with investigators.
Malvo's attorneys have said that prosecutors have handed over ballistics reports, copies of handwritten notes collected during the investigation and Franklin's autopsy report.
Also yesterday, Petit unsuccessfully sought to have the hearing postponed to give him more time to prepare a report about his ward for the court.
A juvenile court judge has denied Petit access to educational, medical and investigative records concerning Malvo. Petit has appealed that decision to Circuit Court and asked that the juvenile hearing be put off until a final decision is made. A Jan. 21 hearing has been scheduled for the appeal.
"I believe that the information in the custody of all the various agencies is very important to this case," Petit said.
Petit also said Malvo stopped eating for 1 1/2 days after he became ill from the vegetarian loaf he was being fed -- a concoction typically fed to inmates as punishment. Petit had requested that Malvo be served the loaf because the jail provides vegetarian meals only to inmates who require them for health reasons or religious beliefs.
Petit said yesterday that Malvo has begun accepting the meal fed to all inmates but that he eats only the vegetables and starches. "I don't believe he's getting adequate portions," Petit said.
Fairfax County Sheriff Stan G. Barry has said jail meals are designed to include enough food so inmates can avoid an item and still get adequate nourishment. "The medical staff keeps an eye on every inmate," Barry said. "We have never had anyone have a problem with malnourishment."