Malvo Case May Guide Juvenile Death Penalty Fight


Proponents of the allowing juvenile criminals to be executed have a case in point: Lee Boyd Malvo.

Malvo told police he was the triggerman in most of the 13 random shootings that resulted in 10 deaths last year. “I intended to kill them all,” he said in a recorded statement played for jurors.

He was 17 at the time.

The Christian Science Monitor says that the Malvo case couldn’t have come at a worse time for juvenile death penalty opponents. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled out capital punishment for the mentally retarded, and analysts saw the potential for a similar decision on juveniles. But only four justices have announced their willingness to strike down the juvenile death penalty. Two swing votes, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, are uncommitted.

“[Malvo] is not exactly the best poster boy for this issue,” says psychologist Laurence Steinberg of Temple University. “If you talk to people who are juvenile death-penalty abolitionists, they have said they felt the antijuvenile death-penalty movement was gaining a lot of momentum – until the sniper case.”

The justices could take up the issue soon if they review a 4-to-3 Missouri Supreme Court ruling that declared the juvenile death penalty unconstitutional. The Missouri court based its ruling on a prediction of action by the Supreme Court. Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif., says there is a good chance the high court will overrule Missouri’s. “We have a lower court [in Missouri] that has disobeyed the precedent based on what it thinks the Supreme Court may say in the future,” he says.

The verdict in the Malvo may be telling. “If the jury is persuaded in the Malvo case that he shouldn’t receive the death penalty because of these mitigating factors, then abolishing the juvenile death penalty is a slam dunk,” says Temple University’s Steinberg. “If you are not going to use it in this case, it is hard to imagine a case where you would.”


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