Malvo's Chance To Speak

Investigators and rescue workers are seen amid wreckage and damaged coaches at the site of a train derailment near the town of Uglovka, some 250 miles northwest of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009.
AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev
The outcome of Wednesday's sentencing of teenage sniper Lee Boyd Malvo is predetermined: the judge must follow a jury's recommendation of life in prison as Malvo's punishment for an October 2002 killing spree in the Washington, D.C., area that left 10 people dead.

What is unknown, though, is whether Malvo will speak about his role in the killings that terrorized the region for three weeks when he is formally sentenced in a Chesapeake courtroom.

Malvo's partner in crime, John Allen Muhammad, was sentenced Tuesday and took the opportunity to again deny any role in the killings, echoing a claim of innocence he made in his opening statement to the jury when he briefly served as his own attorney.

"Just like I said at the beginning, I had nothing to do with this, and I'll say again, I had nothing to do with this," Muhammad said Tuesday.

But Circuit Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. said the evidence of Muhammad's guilt was "overwhelming" and sentenced him to death.

"These offenses are so vile that they were almost beyond comprehension," Millette said.

Unlike in the Malvo case, Millette had the option of reducing the jury's recommendation of death to life in prison without parole. Virginia law allows a judge to reduce a jury's recommended sentence but not increase it.

Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush has no leeway to change the jury's recommendation of life in prison for Malvo because that is the minimum punishment allowed for a capital murder conviction.

Muhammad appeared in court Tuesday in an orange jail jumpsuit with a slightly graying, unkempt beard, in sharp contrast to his clean-shaven, well-dressed appearance at trial.

About 50 family members of sniper victims were in the courtroom. One silently shook his fist as Millette announced the sentence.

"Justice has been served today," said Sonia Wills, mother of sniper victim Conrad Johnson, who would have been 37 this Sunday. "I can go to my son's grave and wish him a happy birthday."

The sister of Hong Im Ballenger, allegedly killed by Muhammad and Malvo in Baton Rouge, La., in the weeks before the D.C. attacks, said Muhammad deserved to die.

"He killed so many innocent people," said a tearful Kwang Im Szuszka. "My nephew is 12 years old and he needs his mommy. ... It breaks my heart."

Muhammad, 43, was convicted of capital murder on Nov. 17 for the Oct. 9, 2002, murder of Dean Harold Meyers at a gas station near Manassas.

During Muhammad's trial, prosecutors described him as "captain of a killing team" and portrayed him as a father figure to Malvo.

It is unclear what will happen next with Malvo. Prosecutors in other states, including Alabama and Louisiana, are seeking his extradition to face potential death-penalty charges there for killings that occurred in the weeks before the D.C. sniper spree.

Prosecutors in Prince William County, who obtained the death penalty against Muhammad, initially said they wanted to seek the death penalty against Malvo as well. But they have recently said they may want to wait and see the outcome of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case on the execution of juveniles. Malvo was 17 at the time of the sniper spree.

Prosecutor Paul Ebert said he might announce a decision Wednesday on whether he'll seek to prosecute Malvo.

The capital-area killings began on Oct. 2, 2002, when the pair shot a 55-year-old man to death outside a Wheaton, Md., supermarket. The following day, five people were killed in the Washington area - four within a span of about two hours.

Muhammad and Malvo were captured Oct. 24 at a highway rest stop near Myersville, Md., in a car that had been altered to allow someone to fire a high-powered rifle from inside the trunk.

Defense lawyer Peter Greenspun pleaded for Millette to show mercy on Muhammad, saying his client is not inherently evil.

"I've represented a lot of bad guys," Greenspun said. "I've represented guys that you look them in the eye and see evil. I've spent a lot of time with John Allen Muhammad and that's not him."

Prosecutor Paul Ebert disagreed. "I see nothing but pure evil," he said after the hearing.

Muhammad spent several of his Army years at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Wash., and Malvo, an illegal Jamaican immigrant, lived with Muhammad in a homeless shelter in Bellingham in late 2001 and early 2002.