Convicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo agreed to drop his request for a resentencing that was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed legislation on Monday that creates the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders serving sentences of 20 years to life.
The end of Malvo’s Supreme Court case may clear the way for more resentencings of juveniles nationwide who received life sentences, since the challenge to that process by the Virginia attorney general is now gone. In an agreement signed Monday, Malvo agreed not to seek a resentencing but will be eligible for parole as early as 2022. If Virginia paroled him for his four life terms, he would then have to begin serving his six life sentences in Maryland.
Malvo and Muhammad shot 13 people, 10 fatally, in the Washington area in October 2002. They are also suspected of killings in Washington state, Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. Muhammad was convicted in 2003 of killing Dean Harold Meyers in Manassas, sentenced to death and executed in 2009. Malvo was convicted of two counts of capital murder in the shooting of Linda Franklin in Falls Church, and pleaded guilty to two more shootings in Spotsylvania County. Both were also convicted of six murders in Maryland.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that defendants 17 and younger should not be sentenced to life terms without parole unless the judge has considered whether their crime “reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity,” or that the defendant is “the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.” Those exact criteria did not exist when Malvo was sentenced by a jury in December 2003, or by a Fairfax County judge in March 2004. In 2016, the high court ruled that the criteria must be applied retroactively.
So Malvo, now 35, sought a resentencing under those rulings, and won approval for a new sentencing in Virginia from both a federal district judge and a federal appeals court. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) then appealed to the Supreme Court. And even though the court had ruled in 2012 that juveniles may not be sentenced to life without parole unless they are found irreparably criminal, and nearly 2,000 had been resentenced, the composition of the court changed and it decided to hear Virginia’s appeal. Some juvenile resentencings were delayed, including in Maryland, as the possibility arose that the high court could revise its view on juvenile life sentences without parole. The high court heard oral arguments last October.
Virginia eliminated parole for all offenders in 1995. But a bill introduced this legislative session by Del. Joseph C. Lindsey (D-Norfolk) moved through both the Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate in about a month. It states that “any person sentenced to a term of life imprisonment for a single felony or multiple felonies committed while the person was a juvenile and who has served at least 20 years of such sentence shall be eligible for parole and any person who has active sentences that total more than 20 years for a single felony or multiple felonies committed while the person was a juvenile and who has served at least 20 years of such sentences shall be eligible for parole.”
After Northam signed the bill, both the Virginia solicitor general and Malvo’s lawyers agreed to seek dismissal of the pending Supreme Court case, saying it was moot since the life-without-parole sentence no longer existed. Malvo then agreed not to seek resentencing as the courts had granted him. This would leave intact the Fourth Circuit appeals court ruling from 2018, upholding Malvo’s resentencing, and the Supreme Court’s 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling, as the applicable precedent for the Mid-Atlantic states.
There are 11 other people in Virginia prisons serving life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles.
But there are 720 inmates in Virginia who were juveniles when sentenced to 20 years or more, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. Of those, 233 would be eligible for parole in the next six years, the department said, including Malvo.
Malvo has been in custody since October 2002, so he theoretically would be eligible for parole in October 2022, or in about 2½ years. But he would then have to face his six life terms in Maryland. Malvo’s lawyers in Maryland have sought a similar resentencing under the Supreme Court’s rulings, and that case is pending in federal district court. Maryland’s state courts had delayed ruling on juvenile case resentencings until the Supreme Court ruled on Malvo, according to Brian Saccenti, chief of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender’s Appellate Division. “Maybe this will allow our cases to start moving forward,” he said.
“We’ve seen an incredible uptick in state legislatures banning life without parole for kids,” said Jody Kent Lavy, executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, “and until now, Virginia has been woefully out of step with that national trend toward youth sentencing reform. … Children must be held accountable for their actions, and because they are fundamentally different from adults in their ability to assess risk and consequences, and their unique capacity for change, they should be held accountable in age-appropriate ways with a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society.”
Virginia’s General Assembly has been considering proposals to revise or reinstate parole. “We’re a nation of second chances, and people ought to have a second chance,” said Sen. John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke), who is sponsoring a bill fully reinstating parole. “The fact that you’re eligible for parole doesn’t mean you’re going to get parole,” he added. “It’s done on an individualized basis, and each inmate’s situation is different.”
Of the roughly 2,800 prisoners nationwide who were serving juvenile life without parole when the Supreme Court ruled that new criteria must be applied to their cases, about 1,950 have been resentenced, and 545 have been released, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing for Youth. About 830 inmates are still serving juvenile life-without-parole terms, the group said in October.
Dan Morse contributed to this report.