The notorious Beltway sniper Lee Boyd Malvo had four life sentences thrown out by a federal judge on Friday because they were retroactively deemed unconstitutional.
US District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk, Virginia, ruled that Malvo is entitled to new sentencing hearings after the US Supreme Court ruled mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.
Malvo was 17 when he was arrested in 2002 for a series of shootings that killed at least 10 people and wounded three others in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, causing widespread fear throughout the region.
Malvo pleaded guilty in Spotsylvania County and agreed to serve two life sentences without parole. He was also convicted and sentenced to two life sentences in Fairfax County.
But the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole were unconstitutional for juveniles in 2012. Then, last year, the Supreme Court applied that case retroactively to sentences issued before 2012.
So Jackson vacated Malvo’s four life sentences and ordered the courts in Fairfax and Spotsylvania to resentence Malvo, even though he could feasibly face life in prison again.
Jackson, in his ruling, wrote that Malvo was entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the Supreme Court had granted new rights to juveniles that Malvo didn’t know he had when he agreed to the plea bargain.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh, who helped prosecute Malvo in 2003, said the Virginia attorney general can appeal Jackson’s ruling. If not, Morrogh said he would pursue another life sentence, saying he believes Malvo meets the criteria for a harsh sentence.
Michael Kelly, spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, said Friday evening that the office is ‘reviewing the decision and will do everything possible, including a possible appeal, to make sure this convicted mass murderer serves the life sentences that were originally imposed.’
He also noted that the convictions themselves stand and emphasized that, even if Malvo gets a new sentencing hearing, he could still be resentenced to a life term.
The ruling doesn’t apply to Malvo’s six life sentences in Maryland for the murders that occurred there. But his lawyers have made an appeal on similar grounds in that state and a hearing is scheduled in June.
Malvo was 17 when he and his accomplice, the 42-year-old John Allen Muhammad, began their crime spree, robbing and killing people across California, Arizona, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, DC and Virginia.
Police did not initially realize the killings, which often involved a single bullet from a distance, were connected.
But the shootings intensified over the course of three weeks in October 2002, and Malvo and Muhammad killed strangers in innocuous places like parking lots, gas stations, and outside schools.
The killings struck fear in Washington DC and surrounding areas in Virginia and Maryland.
They were arrested in October, 2002 after police discovered the pair sleeping in the car at a rest stop in Maryland.
In the years following his conviction Malvo said he was sexually abused by Muhammad from the age of 15 until the time they embarked on the shooting spree from inside a blue Chevrolet Caprice.
In a 2012 interview with the Washington Post, three years after Muhammad was executed, Malvo detailed being groomed to kill by his accomplice and father figure.
He said: ‘I was a monster. 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.’
Malvo, now 32, has been serving his sentence at Red Onion state prison in southwest Virginia.