Lawyers Differ on Malvo's State of Mind in Sniper Spree

Times Staff Writer

The prosecution and the defense in the murder trial of sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo told the jury Thursday in opening statements that they agreed on one point: Malvo wasn't sitting in the defendant's seat by mistake.

"I'm not going to suggest to you that they got the wrong man," Craig S. Cooley, Malvo's court-appointed attorney, told jurors. "And I'm not going to suggest that Lee is not one of two men involved in a horrible crime."

Commonwealth Atty. Robert F. Horan Jr., the lead prosecutor, said Malvo and his alleged partner, John Allen Muhammad, "were a team -- a spotter and a sniper."

"They didn't just go willy-nilly to places to shoot. They picked and they planned," Horan said.

But in their opening statements in the Malvo trial, which could last until Christmas, Cooley and Horan agreed on little else. The 18-year-old Malvo listened to their assessments of him with his right hand under his chin, showing no emotion. But he did not doodle on a legal pad as he had in the first three days of his trial.

Cooley portrayed Malvo as a decent, vulnerable youth who had never been in trouble until he fell under the spell of Muhammad, 42, three years ago. Horan described Malvo as a "smart, clever killer" who laughed and bragged about the people he had killed in a spree of sniper attacks on strangers that terrorized the Washington, D.C., region in October 2002.

Ten people died and three were wounded in the random attacks for which the two men are being tried separately -- Malvo here, and Muhammad 20 miles away in Virginia Beach. Both have pleaded not guilty and could receive the death penalty if convicted. Their trials were not held in the Washington area, 200 miles north, because of the perceived difficulty of seating an unbiased jury there.

Horan, with 36 years' experience considered the dean of Virginia prosecutors, outlined his case to the jurors by projecting photos of the people who became victims onto a large screen. He ran through the evidence against Malvo that slowly built after each slaying and culminated in Malvo and Muhammad's arrest on Oct. 24, 2002, while they slept in a car at a Maryland rest stop.

Speaking about the Oct. 14 slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, who was shot and killed while she and her husband were in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Fairfax, Va., Horan said Malvo told police that "he searched for the husband [in his scope] and zeroed in on her. The husband was moving too much. He said, 'I was 152 yards away and I aimed at her head. I hit her in the head.' "

Horan said he would introduce as evidence a five-hour taped confession Malvo made to law enforcement officers in Baltimore after his arrest. Malvo, he said, "is articulate and knowledgeable on those tapes. They are fascinating. He showed not one ounce of remorse -- never expressed any regret."

Cooley spent two hours tracing Malvo's life in his native Jamaica, in Antigua and in the U.S., which he entered illegally in 2001. The attorney displayed a photo of Malvo as a handsome, well-dressed boy of 13, standing outside a Seventh-day Adventist church near Kingston, Jamaica, a Bible in hand. He said Malvo, abandoned by his father when young, was "extremely vulnerable and in desperate search of a father figure."

Malvo found that figure, Cooley said, when he met Muhammad in Antigua in 2000. Cooley described Muhammad, a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, as charming, manly, disciplined, an expert marksman and an attentive father. Over time the two developed a father-son relationship and Malvo began referring to himself as Muhammad's son, Lee Boyd Muhammad.

But Muhammad, Cooley said, was also filled with racial bitterness and anger over society's injustices. He manipulated and indoctrinated Malvo, taught him to shoot and took him on survival-training exercises. Eventually, Malvo became Muhammad's "child soldier," Cooley told the jury. He said Malvo was insane at the time of the sniper attacks, much as a member of a cult might temporarily lose the ability to tell right from wrong when a cult leader makes extraordinary demands.

Malvo faces two counts of capital murder.

To win a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, the defense must show that Malvo did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the attacks and did not understand the consequences of his actions.

If the jury were to find him insane, Malvo would be sent to a mental institution, to be released at a judge's discretion after his sanity is determined to be restored. He could then face charges in Maryland and other jurisdictions where shootings took place.

After Horan and Cooley's opening statements, Fairfax County Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush recessed the trial until Monday.

Horan, who has tried nine previous capital murder cases and won death sentences in seven of them, said he expected to call 50 to 60 witnesses next week. Cooley has not ruled out the possibility that Malvo will testify in his own defense.

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