Lee Boyd Malvo (born February 18, 1985), also known as John Lee Malvo, is a convicted murderer who, along with John Allen Muhammad, committed murders in connection with the Beltway sniper attacks in the Washington Metropolitan Area over a three-week period in October 2002. Currently, he is serving multiple life sentences at Red Onion State Prison in Virginia, a supermax prison. Muhammad was executed in 2009. Although the two men’s actions were classified by the media as psychopathyattributable to serial killer characteristics, researchers have debated whether or not their psychopathy meets this classification or that of spree killing. In 2012, Malvo claimed that he was sexually abused by Muhammad.
The Beltway sniper attacks turned out to be the last of a series of shootings across the United States connected to these individuals which began on the West Coast. Muhammad had befriended the juvenile Malvo and enlisted him in the attacks. According to Craig Cooley, one of Malvo’s defense attorneys, Malvo believed Muhammad when he told him that the $10 million ransom sought from the US government to stop the sniper killings would be used to establish a Utopian society for one hundred and forty homeless black children on a Canadian compound.
Joining John Allen Muhammad
Malvo and his mother, Una Sceon James, first met John Allen Muhammad in Antigua and Barbuda around 1999, where James and Muhammad developed a strong friendship. Later, James left Antigua for Fort Myers, Florida, using false documents. She left her son with Muhammad, reportedly planning to have him follow her later. Malvo arrived illegally in Miami in 2001, and in December of that year, he and his mother were apprehended by the Border Patrol in Bellingham, Washington. (Uma James was deported to Jamaica on December 15, 2002 in the aftermath of the shootings.) In January 2002, Malvo was released on a $1,500 bond. Malvo traveled to Bellingham, Washington, where he lived in a homeless shelter with Muhammad. Malvo enrolled in Bellingham High School with Muhammad falsely listed as his father, but he did not make any friends, according to his classmates. While in the Tacoma, Washington area, according to his statements to investigators, Malvo shoplifted a Bushmaster XM-15 from Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply and practiced his marksmanship on the Bull’s Eye firing range adjacent to the gun shop. Under federal laws, neither Muhammad nor Malvo was legally allowed to purchase or possess guns, with both classified as prohibited persons under the Gun Control Act of 1968.
Malvo was initially arrested under federal charges, but they were dropped. He was transferred to Virginia custody and sent to jail in Fairfax County. He was charged by the Commonwealth of Virginia for two capital crimes: the murder of FBI analyst Linda Franklin “in the commission of an act of terrorism” (an addendum to Virginia law that was added after the September 11, 2001, attacks) and the murder of more than one person in a three-year period. He was also charged with the unlawful use of a firearm in the murder of Franklin. Initially, a Fairfax attorney, Michael Arif, was appointed to represent him, along with Thomas B. Walsh and Mark J. Petrovich. Later, prominent Richmond attorney Craig Cooley was appointed to the team and assumed a leadership role. While in jail, Malvo made a recorded confession to Detective Samuel Walker in which he stated that he “intended to kill them all”.
Under a change of venue, the trial was moved over 150 miles away to the city of Chesapeake, Virginia. Malvo pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to all charges on the grounds that he was under Muhammad’s complete control. One of Malvo’s psychiatric witnesses testified that Muhammad, a member of Nation of Islam, had indoctrinated Malvo into believing that the proceeds of an extortion attempt would be used to begin a new nation of only pure black young persons somewhere in Canada.
During the trial, Cooley said that violent video games had contributed significantly to Malvo’s state of mind and his willingness to commit murder. Cooley said, “He’s trained and desensitized with video games, computer games, to train him to shoot human forms over and over.” Sociologists Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, however, argue in their book Grand Theft Childhood that other factors were much more significant. “In court, Lee Malvo admitted that he trained by shooting a real gun at paper plates that represented human heads. Also, Malvo had a long history of antisocial and criminal behavior, including torturing small animals, one of the best predictors of future violent criminal behavior.”
On December 18, 2003, after nearly 14 hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Malvo of both charges. On December 23, the jury recommended a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Franklin. On March 10, 2004, Malvo was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
On October 26, 2004, under a plea bargain to avoid a possible death penalty, Malvo entered an Alford plea to the charges of murdering Kenneth Bridges and attempting to murder Caroline Seawell while Malvo was in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. He also pleaded guilty to two firearms charges and agreed not to appeal his conviction for the murder of Franklin. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for murder, plus eight years imprisonment for the weapons charges.
One Virginia prosecutor in Prince William County had stated he would wait to decide whether to try Malvo on additional capital charges in his jurisdiction until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on whether juveniles may be subject to the penalty of execution. However, in light of the March 1, 2005 Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons that the Eighth Amendment prohibits execution for crimes committed when under the age of 18, the prosecutors in Prince William County decided not to pursue the charges against Malvo. However, prosecutors in Maryland, Louisiana and Alabama were still interested in putting both Malvo and Muhammad on trial.
As Malvo was 17 when he committed the crimes, he cannot face the death penalty, but still may be extradited to Alabama, Louisiana and other states for prosecution. At the outset of the Beltway sniper prosecutions, the primary reason for extraditing the two suspects from Maryland, where they were arrested, to Virginia was the differences in how the two states deal with the death penalty. While the death penalty was allowed in Maryland, it only applied to persons who were adults at the time of their crimes, whereas Virginia had also allowed the death penalty for offenders who had been juveniles when their crimes were committed. A death sentence was more likely to result in execution in Virginia than in Maryland, which abolished its death penalty in 2013. In May 2005, Virginia and Maryland reached an agreement to allow Maryland to begin prosecuting some of the pending charges there, and Malvo was extradited to Montgomery County, Maryland under heavy security.
On June 16, 2006, Malvo told authorities that he and Muhammad were guilty of four additional shootings. The four most recently linked victims were also shot in 2002: a man killed in Los Angeles during a robbery in February or March; a 76-year-old man who survived a shooting on May 18 at a golf course in Clearwater, Florida; a man shot to death while doing yard work in Denton, Texas, May 27; and 54-year-old John Gaeta, who survived being shot on August 1 during a robbery outside a shopping mall near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
On October 10, 2006, Malvo pleaded guilty to the six murders he was charged with in Maryland. On October 26, he told police that he and Muhammad had killed Jerry Taylor, 60, as Taylor practiced chip shots at a Tucson, Arizona golf course in March 2002. Tucson detectives interviewed Malvo about Taylor, who died from a single gunshot fired at long range, but did not disclose their findings. On November 8, Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole.
In 2003, Malvo and Muhammad were named in a major civil lawsuit by the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence on behalf of two of their victims who were seriously wounded and the families of some of those murdered. Co-defendants Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply and Bushmaster Firearms contributed to a landmark $2.5 million out-of-court settlement in late 2004.
The “real plan”, as told by Lee Boyd Malvo
In Muhammad’s May 2006 trial in Montgomery County, Maryland, Malvo took the stand and confessed to a more detailed version of the pair’s plans. Malvo, after extensive counseling, admitted that he had been lying in the statement he made after his arrest when he admitted to being the triggerman for every shooting. Malvo claimed that he had said this in order to protect Muhammad from the death penalty because it was more difficult to achieve the death penalty for a minor. Malvo stated, “I’m not proud of myself. I’m just trying to make amends”, expressing his regret in the shootings. In his two days of testimony, Malvo outlined detailed aspects of all the shootings.
Part of his testimony concerned Muhammad’s complete plan, which consisted of three phases in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas. Phase One consisted of meticulously planning, mapping and practicing their locations around the D.C. area so that after each shooting they could quickly leave the area on a predetermined path and move to the next location. Muhammad’s goal in Phase One was to kill six white people a day for 30 days. Malvo went on to describe how Phase One did not go as planned due to heavy traffic and the lack of a clear shot and/or getaway at different locations.
Phase Two was meant to take place in Baltimore. Malvo described how this phase was close to being implemented, but was never carried out. Phase Two was intended to begin by killing a pregnant woman by shooting her in the abdomen. The next step would have been to shoot and kill a Baltimore police officer. At the officer’s funeral, they would plant several improvised explosive devices. These explosives were intended to kill a large number of police since many police would attend another officer’s funeral. More bombs were then to be detonated as ambulances arrived at the scene.
The last phase was to take place very shortly after, if not during, Phase Two. The third phase was to extort several million dollars from the U.S. government. This money would be used to finance a larger plan to travel north into Canada and recruit other effectively orphaned boys to use weapons and stealth and send them out to commit shootings across the country.