Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Life Sentence Case of Man in Deadly D.C. Sniper Shootings

Deputies escort Lee Boyd Malvo into court Oct. 22, 2003, during his murder trial in Virginia Beach, Va. (Pool/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider Virginia’s plea to reinstate the life-without-parole sentence of a man who as a teenager participated in sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington, D.C., region in 2002.

The justices said they will take up the state’s appeal in the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad fatally shot 10 people in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. Malvo was sentenced to life-without-parole terms in Virginia and in Maryland. Muhammad was sentenced to death and was executed in 2009.

Malvo was sentenced to four life terms for crimes he committed in Virginia. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that while Malvo’s life-without-parole sentences were legal when they were imposed, Supreme Court decisions that followed altered sentencing requirements for juvenile offenders.

The appeals court judges said a resentencing would determine whether Malvo qualifies as “one of the rare juvenile offenders” who can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because his “crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.” They said if his crimes instead “reflect the transient immaturity of youth,” he is entitled to a sentence short of life without parole.

The Supreme Court will review that decision. As is typical, the justices did not make any comment in agreeing to hear the case, which likely will be heard in the fall.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, Malvo isn’t getting out of prison anytime soon. He isn’t currently getting a new sentencing hearing in Maryland, where he struck a plea deal and was sentenced to six life-without-parole prison terms for shootings that took place in that state.

A judge previously ruled that Malvo would not get new sentencing hearings in Maryland. Malvo has appealed.

Malvo has been serving his sentences at Red Onion State Prison in Pound, Virginia.

Malvo and his mentor Muhammad, who was 41, shot people during a three-week period as they pumped gas, loaded packages into their cars and went about their everyday business.

Virginia’s appeal was among four criminal cases the court added to its docket for the term that begins in October. In the others:

—Kansas, backed by the Trump administration and 10 other states, wants to be able to prosecute immigrants for identity theft and other crimes when they use other people’s Social Security numbers to work in the United States. Kansas’ top court ruled that the state couldn’t prosecute the immigrants because the case relied on information that is on a required federal work authorization form, the I-9 — information that immigration law says may only be used for enforcement of federal crimes.

—The justices will decide whether convictions by non-unanimous juries in criminal cases violate the Constitution. Louisiana and Oregon are the only states that allow divided juries on some criminal charges, although Louisiana voters recently amended the state constitution to prohibit non-unanimous verdicts for crimes committed after Jan. 1.

—The court has held that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous verdicts in federal criminal cases. But unlike with most rights guaranteed by the first 10 amendments, states have not been compelled to follow suit and require unanimous juries in all state cases.

—A Kansas death row inmate is challenging whether states can eliminate the so-called insanity defense for criminal defendants without violating the Constitution. The inmate has been sentenced to death for killing his estranged wife, their two daughters and the wife’s grandmother, but the jury was not allowed to consider evidence that he was criminally insane at the time of the killings.

SOURCE: The Associated Press