RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Bob Meyers doesn’t want partial justice for his brother. He wants full justice. And to him, that means leaving D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo’s sentence just the way it is: life in prison, with no chance of ever getting out.
A federal judge has given a glimmer of hope to Malvo, who was 17 when he was arrested in the random shootings that killed 10 people and wounded three in and around the nation’s capital. The judge ruled that Malvo is entitled to new sentencing hearings, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has made its ban on mandatory life-without-parole for juvenile offenders retroactive, extending it to people who were already sentenced before it ruled that such punishments are unconstitutional.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s appeal is scheduled for Tuesday before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. The possibility of something less than a life sentence does not sit well with Meyers.
His brother, Dean, was fatally gunned down as he put gas in his car at a service station in northern Virginia. “Nothing’s changed,” Meyers said. “The crime hasn’t become diminished … and if the sentence was appropriate initially and that was viewed as justice for Dean, is it three-quarters justice for Dean if they modify it?”
The shootings in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia paralyzed the region with fear in 2002. People were shot doing everyday things — mowing the lawn, pumping gas, loading purchases into their cars. Schools canceled outdoor activities, gas stations put up tarps to hide their customers and government buildings in D.C. were given increased security.
Malvo’s accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, widely viewed as the mastermind of the deadly rampage. He was executed in Virginia in 2009. A Virginia jury convicted Malvo of capital murder for killing FBI analyst Linda Franklin, who was shot in the head outside a Home Depot store, but spared him the death penalty. Malvo later struck plea deals in other cases in Virginia and Maryland. He ultimately received four life sentences in Virginia and six in Maryland.
Malvo’s attorney, Craig Cooley, argues that he is entitled to a new sentencing under the Supreme Court ruling because jurors were told to choose between the death penalty and life without parole, with no lesser option. The jury unanimously rejected the death penalty and sentenced him to life.
Cooley also argues that Malvo, now 32, should get new hearings to assess what sentence would be appropriate after taking into account his youth at the time and other factors. Cooley said that since his arrest, Malvo has “separated from his psychological domination by John Muhammad” and become an accomplished poet and sketch artist.
“Mr. Malvo as a person has returned to the kind, thoughtful, articulate, and compassionate being he was in his youth,” Cooley wrote in a legal brief. Other former teen offenders are still waiting for a chance at resentencing in states and counties slow to address the court ruling, an Associated Press investigation found. In Michigan, for example, prosecutors are seeking new no-parole sentences for nearly two-thirds of 363 juvenile lifers. Those cases are on hold until the Michigan Supreme Court, which heard arguments in October, determines whether judges or juries should decide their fates.
Some courts are applying the 2016 ruling to inmates whose life-without-parole sentences weren’t mandatory, like Malvo’s, or were negotiated as part of a plea deal. If the 4th Circuit rules against the state, Malvo may still not get a reduced sentence. The court could, for example, order a different sentencing procedure that could result in a re-imposition of a life sentence.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said the chances of Malvo getting a lower sentence are slim. “Malvo pleaded guilty to horrendous offenses,” Turley said. “There are many juveniles who can make strong claims under this new precedent for lower sentences. Malvo just doesn’t happen to be one of them.”
“For Malvo, it’s like defusing nine out of 10 bombs. In the end, unless you can defuse all 10, the result is pretty much the same.”