During a controversial confession to Virginia police last fall, Washington, D.C.-area sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo waived his right to talk with a lawyer and then laughed as he recounted several of the shootings, a police detective testified Monday.
On the first day of a pretrial hearing, Fairfax County Det. June Boyle said she repeatedly asked Malvo whether he wanted to consult with a lawyer. She said he declined, launching into six hours of statements about the slayings.
Malvo told Boyle that he fired a rifle shot at FBI analyst Linda Franklin, one of 13 people killed in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia during October’s three-week killing spree. Boyle said that when she asked where Franklin had been struck, Malvo “laughed and pointed to his head.”
The detective was the first of 12 witnesses called at a hearing to consider a defense motion to throw out Malvo’s confession. His lawyers said the admissions were illegally obtained; Fairfax prosecutors and police insist that Malvo, now 18, was treated properly.
The task force investigating the killings has said that there is a trove of physical evidence against Malvo and John Lee Muhammad, 42, the second suspect accused in the killing spree. But even after seizing a high-powered rifle, a car suspected of shielding the killers, saliva traces and a computer laptop allegedly loaded with damning entries, prosecutors are intent on using Malvo’s confession to shed more light on the killers’ path and motives.
During previous defense challenges, Fairfax Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush has sided mostly with prosecutors.
On Monday, she did not appear overly skeptical of the state’s case. She is expected to rule today on whether the confession can be used in Malvo’s trial.
Virginia’s courts have tended to side with police in past challenges to confessions.
During Malvo’s interrogation, Boyle said, the youth seemed amused as he described the Oct. 2 killing of James L. “Sunny” Buchanan. Malvo said that after Buchanan toppled off a power lawnmower, the machine kept rolling. Malvo also told the detective that another of his shots barely missed a young boy standing outside an arts supply store in suburban Maryland. According to Boyle, Malvo said the bullet “went buzzing by him like a bee. It might have parted his hair.”
As Boyle testified, Malvo -- wearing an olive-drab prison jumpsuit -- sat at the end of a defense table. He stayed silent, watching impassively.
Malvo’s defense team insisted Monday that the moment the suspect sat down with police, he asked: “Do I need to see my attorney?” But he was not “adequately informed of the charges against him” and was denied access to a lawyer and a county-appointed guardian, his lawyers said.
Defense attorney Mark Petrovich said the failures amounted to “conspiracy and improper conduct from police.”
Malvo’s public defenders allege that after their client was transferred from the custody of federal prosecutors nearly two weeks after he was captured, Fairfax County police met with him late in the day and used that timing to prevent defense lawyers from contacting him. The moves amounted to “covert and intentionally deceptive action,” the defense team said.
Testifying for the defense Monday, Todd G. Petit -- who had been appointed Malvo’s legal guardian while he was still 17 -- said that as the interrogation continued, he repeatedly demanded that police allow him in to see Malvo.
Police refused, Petit said, and at one point an officer threatened him with arrest if he did not leave.