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Jurors Split on Malvo Fate in Sniper Case

December 24, 2003 GMT

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) _ Jurors in the trial of Lee Boyd Malvo said in interviews Wednesday that the jury was split on both the penalty for the convicted sniper and on how much of the defense’s argument to accept.

William Hurdle, a retired teacher on the jury, dismissed the mental health evidence as ``a ploy by the defense to get him off.″ Deborah Moulse, however, said she gave great weight to what several psychiatrists said about Malvo’s mental state, his background and susceptibility to being brainwashed.

Moulse, 53, said the jury wavered between a life sentence and the death penalty during two days of deliberations, after taking an initial vote that was nearly evenly split.

``As a group, I think we all went back and forth on our opinions,″ Moulse, a sales representative, said in an interview Wednesday. ``For me personally, I thought his age and the mitigating circumstances _ the environment of his background and the influence of John Muhammad _ were the biggest factors″ tipping her choice to life.

Hurdle, 70, said he and others agreed to the life sentence to avoid a hung jury.

Juror Shelby Thornton said she, too, originally favored the death penalty, but reconsidered.

``In the pictures that Lee Malvo drew and the letters he wrote, he always wanted to be a martyr for his cause,″ Thornton said on NBC’s ``Today″ show. ``I think by not giving him the death sentence, I haven’t given him that, and he’ll have to spend the next 60 to 70 years of his life thinking about the pain that he has caused those poor families.″

A jury of eight women and four men sentenced Malvo to life in prison without parole Tuesday for his part in the three-week sniper spree that killed 10 people in and around the nation’s capital in October 2002.

Defense lawyers had presented an insanity defense, portraying the 18-year-old as an impressionable boy who fell under the sinister influence of sniper mastermind John Allen Muhammad.

Prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. said after the sentencing that Malvo was ``very lucky that he looks a lot younger than he is.″ He said the timing of the deliberations just days before Christmas also affected the jury.

``We used to have a theory when I was a very young prosecutor that whatever you do, don’t try one on Christmas week,″ Horan said.

But Hurdle said the holiday season was never discussed during the jury’s eight and half hours of deliberations.

Defense attorney Craig Cooley said Malvo was relieved at the sentence, but ``on the other hand, he’s 18, contemplating living the rest of his natural life in a penitentiary setting.″ He said the conviction will be appealed.

Malvo sat expressionless, his elbows on the defense table, as he heard the sentence.

Last month, the man he saw as a father figure, Muhammad, 42, was found guilty of murder in another of the Washington area sniper deaths; the jury recommended the death penalty.

Malvo and Muhammad still could be tried in other shootings in Virginia and elsewhere, and they could get the death penalty. Prosecutors in Maryland, Alabama and Louisiana have said they want a crack at Muhammad, and Malvo could face a similar fate.

Malvo was convicted last week of two counts of capital murder in the shooting of Linda Franklin, an FBI analyst cut down by a single bullet to the head outside a Home Depot. One count alleged Franklin’s slaying was part of a series of murders, the other alleged the killing was intended to terrorize the population. Either count could have brought the death penalty.

Franklin’s daughter, Katrina Hannum, cried when the sentence was read. She did not speak to reporters.

Several relatives of other victims said they were disappointed Malvo escaped the death penalty. Marion Lewis, whose daughter, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, was killed by a sniper bullet while cleaning her minivan at a Maryland gas station, said the jurors should be ashamed.

``I’m very disappointed in the American justice system,″ Lewis said. ``Our society has now been sentenced to the responsibility of seeing to this man’s health and welfare for the next 30 or 40 years, and that’s unconscionable.″

Vijay Walekar, who lost his brother Premkumar Walekar in the sniper attacks, said he had wanted Malvo to be executed. ``What if he runs away again?″ Walekar said, referring to Malvo’s thwarted escape attempt the night he was arrested.

The defendant’s mother, reached by phone in Malvo’s native Jamaica, thanked the jury. ``I thank God that they spared his life,″ Una James said.

Attorney General John Ashcroft had cited Virginia’s ability to impose ``the ultimate sanction″ in sending Malvo and Muhammad to Virginia for prosecution. Virginia is one of only 21 states that allow the execution of criminals who were as young as 16 when they killed. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Virginia is one of only six states that have executed someone whose crime was committed as a juvenile.