For more than a month, Lee Boyd Malvo’s attorneys called him a child, dressed him like a child, and treated him like a child as his case was being tried, the Washington Post repors. Prosecutor Robert F. Horan, Jr., was hampered by the reality that Malvo was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad started the cross-country killings that ended in the sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., area.
Yesterday, a jury in Chesapeake, Va., spared Malvo from the death penalty, sentencing him to lilfe in prison. He still could face the death ppenalty in other trials.
Advocates for abolishing the juvenile death penalty say the jury’s decision sends a message to legislators and prosecutors that public opinion is shifting. “I think in 10 years we will look back and this will have been a significant event,” said George Kendall, former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s criminal justice project.
The Post observes that if there was ever going to be a case for such a punishment, this was it, Horan told the jury that Malvo was just as responsible as Muhammad, who was sentenced to death last month. “They were an unholy team, a team that was as vicious, as brutal, as uncaring as you could find,” Horan said.
“This was a very clear sign that this country is turning away from using the death penalty generally, but clearly in cases involving youthful offenders, no doubt about it,” said Kendall, who this month argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Texas death row inmate Delma Banks, Jr. “I think that any prosecutor ought to think long and hard about spending all that money.”
Joshua Marquis, prosecutor in Clatsop County, Ore., and co-chairman of the capital litigation committee of the National District Attorneys Association, said that seeking the death penalty against a young offender is fraught with obstacles. “It is always difficult to see the death penalty,” Marquis said. “It is particularly difficult when they are youthful, whether they are 17 or 18, or 19 — it doesn’t make a difference.”
Malvo was convicted of capital murder in the Oct. 14, 2002, death of Linda Franklin near a Home Depot store. Prosecutor Horan said Malvo’s age, especially his baby-faced appearance, was the decisive factor. “He is very lucky that he looks younger than he is,” Horan said. “You can make the argument very well, which they did.”