Monday, January 22, 2018

Lee Boyd Malvo: A lifetime to reflect on 23 days of terror

WASHINGTON — Lee Boyd Malvo said he remembers each of the sniper shootings in detail. But one moment — one image — stands out among the carnage of that terrifying time 10 years ago:

"Mr. Franklin's eyes."

Malvo remembers being in the blue Chevrolet Caprice, in which police found binoculars and walkie-talkies. He scanned the area to make sure John Allen Muhammad had a clean shot. He gave the "go" order and looked across Route 50 at the target. Muhammad, hidden on a hill, pulled the trigger. A bullet screamed across the highway, instantly killing Linda Franklin, who just happened to be going about her business at the Home Depot at precisely the wrong time.

But mostly he remembers Ted Franklin's eyes — the devastation, the shock, the sadness. "They are penetrating," Malvo said in a rare media interview from prison, where he is serving a life sentence. "It is the worst sort of pain I have ever seen in my life. His eyes . . . words do not possess the depth in which to fully convey that emotion and what I felt when I saw it.

". . . You feel like the worst piece of scum on the planet."

Malvo's attitude provides a sharp contrast to his posture 10 years ago. Shortly after his arrest, a boastful, defiant Malvo told investigators he fired the bullet that killed Franklin.

It has been 10 years since Malvo and Muhammad went on their killing rampage. For 23 days in October 2002, they ambushed 13 unsuspecting strangers, killing 10 of them, in the Washington area. Death came without warning: in gas stations and parking lots, on benches and lawns. They even shot and wounded a 13-year-old standing in front of a middle school. Sporting events were canceled. People cowered behind tarps as they filled their cars with gas. Parents kept their children home. After the two were caught, they were tied to at least 12 more shootings from Washington state to Alabama, six of them fatal.

Muhammad was executed in 2009 for his crimes. Malvo, the scrawny teenager, the cold-blooded accomplice, is now 27.

His killer stare seems to have softened. He speaks with animation and poise, and with an adult perspective on what he did.

"I was a monster," Malvo said. "If you look up the definition, that's what a monster is. I was a ghoul. I was a thief. I stole people's lives. I did someone else's bidding just because they said so. There is no rhyme or reason or sense."

In three hours of interviews this month, Malvo reflected on the sniper shootings and what led to the deadly rampage of crimes that stretched coast to coast. He said he is different now, extricated from Muhammad's grip, and wiser. He said he has deep regret for everything he did.

Much of what he said was similar to the narrative his attorneys presented at his 2003 capital murder trial in Franklin's death. Jurors spared his life, largely because they believed that while he was responsible for the killings, he also was under Muhammad's control.

Malvo spoke through plexiglass on Sept. 19 in the stark concrete block visitation room at Red Onion State Prison, a remote supermax facility tucked among Virginia's Appalachian coal mines, about eight hours from Washington.

Malvo said there is no explanation for why he and Muhammad killed so many people, only that he learned of Muhammad's plans piecemeal. He knows Muhammad snapped when he lost custody of his children and wanted to get back at his ex-wife, Mildred Muhammad, who lived in Prince George's County, so he could get the children back.

A slight man with close-cropped hair, Malvo has a broad smile and often uses his hands to express himself, such as when pointing to his temple while explaining how his mind was warped.

He is confined to a small segregation cell 23 hours a day. He gets to exercise in an enclosed pen, take showers, and sometimes do menial jobs on his own during that other hour. He has taken a deep interest in yoga and meditation. He writes poetry, draws, and corresponds with people by mail, including one person who maintains a Facebook page for him.

Though at peace with a life behind bars, Malvo said he has had to work hard to recover from what he calls a total brainwashing at the hands of a "sinister" and "evil" man.

Malvo grew up in Jamaica and Antigua. He was a vagabond, bouncing from his father to his mother and enduring physical abuse. He was fighting an illness, Malvo said, and Muhammad nursed him back to health.

"I was unable to distinguish between Muhammad the father I had wanted and Muhammad the nervous wreck that was just falling to pieces,'' Malvo said. "He understood exactly how to motivate me by giving approval or denying approval. It's very subtle. It wasn't violent at all. It's like what a pimp does to a woman."

Malvo said Muhammad had him go to a gun range nearly every day — sometimes for 12 hours at a time. Muhammad would tell him to envision himself shooting and killing the old Lee Malvo, the weak Lee Malvo.

So Malvo shot at himself, over and over and over again. When it came time for the first killing — Kenya Cook, 21, in Tacoma in February 2002 — Malvo said it was almost automatic.

Malvo said he shot many people en route to the District of Columbia, then took the shots that injured 13-year-old Iran Brown at a middle school in Bowie, Md., on Oct. 7 — "Imagine that, a kid, shooting a kid," he said, slapping his right hand to his forehead — and Jeffrey Hopper at the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Ashland, Va., on Oct. 19. He said he also killed Conrad Johnson, the final sniper shooting, on Oct. 22, in Aspen Hill, Md.

Malvo is apologetic to his victims and their families, but he said there's no way to express that. When asked what he would say directly to them, he implored people to forget about him.

"Don't allow myself or Muhammad to continue to make you a victim for the rest of your life," Malvo said. "It isn't worth it."

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