Teenage sniper who terrified Washington given life sentence

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The teenage sniper who terrorised the Washington area with an older accomplice was spared the death penalty yesterday when a jury sentenced him instead to life imprisonment - apparently persuaded that he was an impressionable boy who had fallen under the spell of a charismatic but twisted mentor.

The jury in Chesapeake, Virginia, took almost two days of deliberation to decide that Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, should spend the rest of his life in prison for his part in a campaign that left 10 people dead and spread fear throughout a region. Malvo - who sat expressionless as the decision was announced - will never be eligible for parole.

But that may not be Malvo's fate. At least two other authorities have indicated their intention to try the teenager for capital murder over the shootings, which were carried out over three weeks in the autumn of 2002. Malvo, who had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, could also appeal against his conviction.

Malvo was convicted last week of the murder of Linda Franklin, an FBI analyst who was shot dead outside a DIY store. He was also convicted under a new terrorism-related statute drawn up after the attacks of 11 September 2001.

During the sentencing phase, prosecutors had argued that the death penalty was the only appropriate sentence for Malvo given the extent of his involvement in the shootings. The Virginia prosecutor, Robert Horan, said the killings were part of a scheme to extort $10m (£5.6m) from the government and that Malvo pulled the trigger in most, if not all, of the shootings. He rejected suggestions that Malvo had been brainwashed by his older accomplice, John Muhammad, who was convicted of murder last month and is awaiting sentence.

"They were an unholy team, as vicious, as brutal and as uncaring as you can be," he said. "You can talk about John Muhammad all you want. Maybe it was his plan. Maybe it was his idea. But the evidence stamps this defendant as the shooter ... He did it. Not John Muhammad."

But Craig Cooley, for the defence, argued that Malvo, who was born in Jamaica, had been heavily influenced by Muhammad, whom he came to consider a father figure. "Children are not born evil. When they commit evil acts, you can almost always trace the acts to the evil that has been performed against them," he said.

During his appeal to the jury, Mr Cooley held up a large stone as a prop, telling the jury that in times past the jury itself would hurl the stones at the defendant.

"The stone has no compassion," he said. "Once it has been cast, it has no ability to temper its impact. The [prosecution] urges you to vote to kill, to stain your stone with the blood of this child."

Many observers believed the jury of eight women and four men might spare Malvo's life given his age. Some suggested that the time of year - something mentioned by Malvo's lawyer - may also have had some impact on yesterday's decision.

The jury's chairman, Jim Wolcafe, said that "deep consideration" had gone into their decision. "It was mentally challenging and emotionally exhausting," he said. He also expressed the sympathy of the jury members to the relatives of the victims.

Virginia law required the court to find at least one "aggravating factor" to impose a death sentence. Prosecutors argued there were two: that Malvo posed a future danger and that his crimes were "outrageously or wantonly vile". Mr Horan had argued that the random killings epitomised vileness. "If that's not vile, there is no vile," he said.

Malvo's mother, Una James, thanked the jury. "I knew he would get life because of the length of the trial," she said. "I thank God that they spared his life, I thank them for that."

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