Attorney: DC sniper life sentence unconstitutional
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ROCKVILLE, Md. — An attorney for a man convicted of taking part in sniper shootings that left 10 people dead in the Washington area is asking a judge to toss his life sentence because he was convicted as a juvenile.
In a motion filed Friday in a Maryland county court, public defender James Johnston argues that Lee Boyd Malvo's mandatory life sentence is illegal because the U.S. Supreme Court determined such sentences are unconstitutional for juveniles.
Malvo was convicted in Maryland and Virginia when he was 17 for his role in the 2002 sniper shootings that killed 10 people and wounded three in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. He also later admitted to shootings in other states. He's serving a life term at the Red Onion State Prison in southwest Virginia.
In the new filing, Johnston argues that Malvo should be resentenced taking into account a 2016 Supreme Court decision making retroactive a previous order deeming mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder unconstitutional.
Malvo was first put on trial in Chesapeake, Virginia, in 2003, in a trial that was moved from Fairfax County. He was convicted of capital murder. The jury only had the option of a death penalty or life in prison without parole, and opted for a life sentence.
Subsequently, Malvo struck plea bargains in Maryland and Spotsylvania County, Virginia, in which he agreed to accept a life sentence.
Muhammad, his partner in the shootings, was executed in 2009.
Malvo's lawyers in Virginia have made similar arguments in federal court in Virginia, where Malvo received life sentences for slayings in Fairfax and Spotsylvania counties, respectively. The life sentence in Spotsylvania County was the result of a negotiated plea agreement.
Lawyers for the state have said the Supreme Court ruling should not apply to Malvo.
"Nothing in these cases suggests that the Supreme Court intended for its holdings to apply to a serial murderer like Malvo," wrote Donald Jeffrey, senior assistant attorney general in Virginia, in court papers filed on Sept. 1.
Jeffrey also argues that Malvo should pursue his claims in state court in Virginia before seeking federal relief.
On Jan. 4, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk ordered both sides to provide additional briefs on the issue.
Maryland requires imposing a life sentence for murder convictions. The motion filed Friday argues that because any parole order for lifers requires a sign-off from the governor, it doesn't afford prisoners a meaningful chance at early release.
The Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal case on the issue in April, arguing that juveniles sentenced to life in Maryland virtually never receive the second chance they're constitutionally entitled to.
Associated Press Matthew Barakat contributed to this report from McLean, Virginia.