Younger sniper suspect to plead insanity

Posted 11:01pm October 15

by Jane Black
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

A year after the sniper shootings that terrorized the nation’s capital, one of the accused triggermen will plead he was brainwashed to kill by the man he once called “Dad”.

Lawyers for accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo announced just five days before Muhammad’s trial that they will argue Malvo was “indoctrinated” by co-defendant John Allen Muhammad, in a string of 13 shootings in the Washington region last October.

Malvo, 17 at the time of the shootings, faces two capital murder charges. His trial, scheduled to begin November 10, was moved to Chesapeake, Va., to find jurors unaffected by the shooting rampages that lasted three weeks.

In what legal experts are calling an “11th hour” decision by the defense team, Malvo will not serve time in prison if defense lawyers convince the jury of his alleged insanity.

“There were probably not many other options for the defense team,” said legal expert Eric Sirulnik, a professor of criminal law at The George Washington University. “Especially because Virginia is not what you would call a ‘defendant-friendly’ environment.”

The defense team must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Malvo did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time the crimes were committed — that he did not understand the consequences of his actions.

In transcripts and courtroom testimony that Malvo gave last fall, Malvo admitted to pulling the trigger in several of the fatal shootings. According to police records, Malvo also allegedly boasted to police and jail guards that he fired some of the shots.

Although DNA and other evidence link both Malvo and Muhammad to all of the crime scenes, no evidence exists that Muhammad ever fired a weapon.

“If Malvo has a separate jury to decide guilt and insanity, he’s up the creek,” said legal expert James E. Starrs, a Professor of Law at The George Washington University.” A jury usually won’t convict a defendant of guilt and then say he is insane.”

Malvo, born and raised in Jamaica, met Muhammad, 42, in Antigua in 1999. They both illegally entered the United States in 2001 and spent the next year traveling around the country by car and bus. The two briefly lived together in a homeless shelter in Bellingham, Washington.

Muhammad pled not guilty before a judge on Tuesday, publicly denying for the first time that he took part in the shootings

Ellen S. Podgor, a former deputy prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer, remembers hearing doctor testimony of a defendant’s insanity, and the jury still rendering a guilty verdict.

“Many juries are very skeptical of insanity because they are afraid someone found to be insane might be back out on the streets,” said Podgor, a Professor of Law at Georgia State College of Law.

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