Lee Boyd Malvo is “a smart, clever killer” who deliberately chose spots across the Washington region to gun down innocent people and then bragged and laughed about it, a prosecutor said Thursday in his opening statement at Malvo’s murder trial.
But defense attorneys portrayed Malvo as a scrawny, “sissified” boy until he came under the influence of the older, more powerful John Allen Muhammad, who they said controlled the teenager’s actions throughout the sniper shootings last fall. Malvo’s defining character trait was obedience, defense attorney Craig S. Cooley said.
The prosecution and the defense in this trial agree that Malvo and Muhammad carried out the series of slayings, but they differ sharply and dramatically over who was responsible.
After listening to opening statements Thursday, a Chesapeake jury is set to hear from the people and police who witnessed Malvo’s transformation and its deadly consequences, and then to decide whether Malvo’s vulnerability and tumultuous upbringing are reason enough to spare his life in the face of charges that carry the death penalty.
In his opening statement, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. revealed several details of what Malvo told investigators during a tape-recorded interrogation on Nov. 7, 2002 — details that he said would be even more chilling when the jury hears them coming from Malvo’s mouth.
“We did reconnaissance. We figured out how to get in and how to get out,” Horan quoted Malvo as telling his interviewers without remorse. “We picked our spots, and we killed ’em.”
Malvo, 18, is charged in the Oct. 14, 2002, shooting death of Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot store in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County. To secure the death penalty, prosecutors must prove that Malvo killed Franklin and at least one other person within three years or that he killed Franklin as part of a plot to influence the government.
Horan said Malvo told Fairfax homicide detective June Boyle and FBI Special Agent Brad Garrett that he was 152 yards from the spot where Franklin was shot dead. “You know, he couldn’t have been off by more than two or three yards,” Horan told the jury.
And Horan said Malvo expressed regrets only when he didn’t get off a clean head-shot at his victims. Malvo said Jeffrey Hopper was wounded in the body in a shooting in Ashland, Va., because he was bobbing around too much, the prosecutor said.
“He says on tape,” Horan said of Malvo, ” ‘I knew he wasn’t going to die; he staggered.’ “