Teenage sniper faces death penalty over Washington murder spree

Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger of two snipers who terrorised the Washington area last year, was last night convicted of capital murder. The jury must now decide whether to sentence to death a killer who was only 17 when he committed his crimes.

After a six-week trial, the jury in Chesapeake, Virginia, found Malvo guilty on two capital counts in the killing of Linda Franklin, an FBI analyst, on 14 October 2002. They also found that her death was part of a systematic killing spree, and was intended to terrorise the public and extort money from the US government.

That Malvo had committed at least some of the crimes was never in serious doubt, even though there were no eyewitnesses.

Not only was the circumstantial and forensic evidence overwhelming, he also signed a confession shortly after his arrest, in which he claimed to have pulled the trigger in most of the killings.

Instead, Malvo's lawyers had pinned their hopes of acquittal on arguing that an impressionable teenager had been "brainwashed" by his older accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, 41, and was thus no longer legally responsible for his actions. But the jury agreed with the prosecution that Malvo had acted in full knowledge of what he was doing, firing the fatal shots from an improvised sniper's nest in the boot of an old Chevrolet car. When the verdict was read out, the normally animated Malvo sat staring blankly at the judge.

In all, 10 people were shot dead and three were wounded in three terrifying autumn weeks in the Washington area.The prosecution argued that the killings were part of an attempt to extort $10m (£5.6m) from the government, in which both men were equal accomplices. In one of Malvo's confession tapes played to the jury, the teenager declared that "I intended to kill them all".

The question now is whether Malvo, now 18, will be sentenced to death. The US is one of the very few countries, and Virginia one of the small minority of US states, which permits and has carried out the execution of juveniles.

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