Virginia Law Spurs Dismissal of Appeal in DC Sniper Case

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Virginia’s attorney general has agreed to dismiss an appeal of the life sentence for the then-teenage accomplice in the 2002 D.C. sniper shootings following the passage of a state law updating sentencing rules.

Lee Boyd Malvo had been 15, abandoned by his mother and not in contact with his father for years, when he met John Allen Muhammad, then 39. The two used a sniper rifle to terrorize parts of Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and Maryland, targeting public places like gas stations and parking lots, and causing school lockdowns and widespread fear. Ten people were killed and three others were wounded.

Lee Boyd Malvo.  (Virginia Department of Corrections via AP)

The two were caught and sentenced. Muhammad was executed in Virginia in 2009 but Malvo remained in jail after a deal allowed him to dodge the death penalty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

Years after Malvo and Muhammad’s convictions, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders violate the Eighth Amendment. In a separate decision, Montgomery v. Louisiana, the justices gave Miller retroactive effect to cases on collateral review.

Malvo sought resentencing in the wake of those decisions. He prevailed in the Fourth Circuit, but Virginia appealed. The case was heard by the Supreme Court last October, and a decision was expected by June.

However, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office told the high court Monday that a ruling was no longer necessary after lawmakers updated state code to comply with the Miller and Montgomery decisions.

In a single-page letter signed by Malvo’s lawyer Danielle Spinelli with the DC-based law firm WilmerHale and Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens, the parties agreed to dismiss the state’s appeal and make Malvo eligible for parole after completing 20 years of his sentence.

Malvo was sentenced March 2004 so he could be eligible for parole in Virginia as early as 2024, although he was also convicted of multiple life sentences in Maryland.

“The new law essentially moots the case because the General Assembly has made juveniles eligible to be considered for parole after serving 20 years of their sentence,” Herring’s spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer said. “There is no need for the Supreme Court to rule on a sentencing structure that will no longer exist.”

Governor Ralph Northam signed the bill into law Monday.

Delegate Joe Lindsey, D-Norfolk, who authored the legislation, told the Virginia House in a Jan. 23 hearing that in addition to conforming with the Supreme Court rulings, the bill would address a collection of minors who were sentenced in the wake of parole being abolished in the state, but whose juries were not informed as to this increased level of punishment.

According to an impact statement on the bill, 311 inmates will be eligible for parole thanks to the change in state law – 305 of them were convicted of violent crimes.

“Consideration is not being given to this class of individuals with a concern about whether jurors knew the sentence at the time of their position,” Lindsey said. “If our parole board was working these people would have been released 10 or 15 years ago.”

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