Psychologist Dewey Cornell testified, live, that as a child, sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo hunted and killed cats with a slingshot, one of the first signs of emotional problems in an otherwise "strikingly obedient child."
Malvo once had a pet cat but grew to hate cats, said Cornell, who has interviewed Malvo 21 times since February. Cornell said Malvo's mother, Una James, would beat the boy because the pet cat would sleep in Malvo's bed and soil the sheets.
"If he saw a stray cat he would become angry and shoot the stray cat. He hit some of the cats, and probably killed some of the cats," Cornell testified at Malvo's trial. "This was probably the most serious problem in his childhood."
Cornell said when he first began interviewing Malvo, the 18-year-old was still under the influence of John Allen Muhammad, mastermind of last year's sniper spree. Malvo is offering an insanity defense to the crimes.
"At first he was just parroting the political philosophies of John Muhammad and was boastful of what he and John Muhammad had done," Cornell said.
Later, "there came a point at which he disavowed his allegiance with John Muhammad, and he gave me much more information. ... There was a change in his demeanor, and certainly in his attitude."
Reports Neil Augenstein of CBS radio affiliate WTOP-AM, Cornell testified that as a child, Malvo was strikingly obedient, anxious to do anything to be accepted.
Una James moved Malvo from home to home, and was a strict disciplinarian who beat Malvo with sticks and belts, Cornell said.
The prosecutor said the baby pictures in the video presentation were intended to soften up the jury.
"I've never heard of a psychologist who bases his opinion on what a baby picture looks like," said prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr., who likened the presentation to the type of brainwashing the defense claims was imposed on Malvo by Muhammad.
Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush agreed with Horan that Cornell's presentation was "replete with inadmissible evidence" and barred the defense from displaying it.
Among the items in Cornell's presentation were a 12-minute clip of the film "The Matrix," which the defense contends distorted Malvo's view of reality, and clips of violent video games that the defense says Muhammad used to desensitize Malvo in training as a sniper.
Jurors have seen Malvo portrayed as an obedient boy who yearned for a father during a childhood of loneliness and uncertainty. His lawyers say he once complained that he had no one, "not even a dog, not even a bird."
They also have seen the sniper suspect as a teenager obsessed with racial injustice and looking to start a violent revolution to transform society. On interrogation tapes, they heard him chuckle while telling police how he chose his victims and how the rifle used in the shootings inflicted horrendous damage on human bodies.
Malvo's attorneys are trying to convince the jury that his participation in the attacks that killed 10 in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2002 amounted to legal insanity — that Malvo was so indoctrinated by Muhammad that he was unable to discern right from wrong.
According to Cornell, after John Muhammad lost his children in his divorce, he told Malvo he'd get them back by any means necessary, and that was the time that Malvo remembered he began training to be a sniper.
Muhammad was convicted in the slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, shot while pumping gas in Manassas during the three-week sniper spree that terrified the Washington region. Jurors recommended a death sentence.
Malvo is being tried in another of the 10 killings, that of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, shot outside a Falls Church store. The two men also are accused in earlier shootings in Washington state, Arizona, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana.