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Capital Case Not Ruled Out

Judge says teenage sniper suspect can face death penalty despite treaties banning juvenile executions.

September 18, 2003|From The Baltimore Sun

FAIRFAX, Va. — A Circuit Court judge Wednesday refused to eliminate the prospect of a death sentence for teenage sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger of a pair of men accused in a three-week shooting spree that left 10 people dead in the Washington, D.C., area a year ago.

Malvo's lawyers had argued that foreign countries and international treaties banning the death penalty for juveniles combined to rule out execution for Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings last fall. But prosecutors contended the Virginia law on juvenile executions is constitutional.

Seventeen states, Maryland included, bar execution of anyone under age 18, and another dozen have no death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Although most of the sniper victims were killed in Maryland, federal authorities sent the first prosecutions to Virginia because of its tough record on capital punishment. Over the last 25 years, the state is second only to Texas in its number of executions.

Judge Jane Marum Roush denied the defense motion, saying that while some day the U.S. may bar the execution of juveniles, for now it allows it.

The ruling, while expected, was nevertheless a disappointment for the defense, which had called Richard J. Wilson, an American University law professor specializing in international human rights.

Calling the execution of juveniles "abhorrent," Craig S. Cooley, one of Malvo's lawyers, said: "I think the world has said we are going to draw a bright line at 18.... The world has spoken. This is not a close call."

"International law was not the issue in here today as far as I was concerned," Commonwealth's Atty. Robert F. Horan Jr. said after the hearing.

He argued that United States and Virginia laws allow it and that the U.S. has exempted itself from sections barring the death sentence for juveniles in international treaties. While Horan is expected to seek execution if Malvo is convicted, he has said he will first see what the evidence is.

Malvo, now 18, and John Allen Muhammad, 42, are charged in 13 shootings, 10 of them fatal, in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, and are suspected in others around the country.

Prosecutors contend that the duo sought to extort $10 million from the government to end the killings.

Malvo is to stand trial Nov. 10 in Chesapeake, Va. Muhammad's trial is to open Oct. 14.

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