On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Lee Boyd Malvo was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad were caught during the sniper rampage of October 2002.
Today, Malvo is 35 years-old, serving a life sentence. But should juvenile offenders be held accountable as adults? How do we strike a balance between justice and rehabilitation?
We look at where regional laws around juvenile incarceration stand today and take a deep-dive into the D.C. sniper case with the host of a new podcast.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
Monster: D.C. Sniper
From iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV, Monster: DC Sniper reinvestigates the beltway sniper attacks. This true crime podcast places the listener in Montgomery County, Maryland on October 2nd, 2002 when an unidentified sniper began randomly killing people going about their daily lives.
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast a new cookbook makes the humble bean a super star. But first it's been almost 20 years since Lee Boyd Malvo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Malvo was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammed were caught during the Beltway sniper rampage of October 2002. Today Malvo is 35 years old serving a life sentence. John Allen Muhammed who orchestrated the attacks killing 10 people in the Washington region was executed more than a decade ago.
KOJO NNAMDISo just how differently should young people who commit crimes be treated, and how do we strike a balance between justice for the victims and rehabilitation for the perpetrator? Joining me in studio to discuss this is Jody Kent Lavy, Executive Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Thank you so much for joining us.
JODY KENT LAVYThanks for having me.
NNAMDIJody Kent Lavy, I'm wondering if you can begin by giving us some background here. Virginia recently passed a law that would create the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders. Can you tell us more about that legislation?
LAVYSure. So just last week Governor Northam signed into law legislation that provides parole eligibility for all children, who are tried and convicted and sentenced in the adult justice system after no more than 20 years. And so what that means is that they will come before a parole board at that time, and the parole board will look at their record in prison and at their crimes and determine whether or not they are deserving of an opportunity to be freed. And the Virginia bill was one of just the most recent reforms of this kind.
LAVYWe've actually seen a steady stream across the country of states moving away from these extreme sentences for children, life without parole specifically, so that there are parole and review opportunities to look at young people later in life.
NNAMDIConvicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo's request for a resentencing was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. What happened there?
LAVYYeah. And in that case I think it's important to just back up and understand sort of the history there. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court said in Miller v. Alabama that life without parole is unconstitutional for the vast majority of children. Any child that demonstrates transient immaturity can no longer be sentenced to life without parole. And they said that every child has to have an individualized sentencing hearing before they can receive a life without parole sentence. And after that many states moved to resentence individuals. Some states held that it wasn't retroactive. That Miller didn't apply to people currently in prison.
LAVYAnd so in 2016, Montgomery v. Louisiana came down from the Supreme Court holding that Miller was indeed retroactive and people needed to be resentenced. And we saw a steady stream of people be resentenced across the country, who were sentenced to life without parole as children. But the state of Virginia refused. They said that their sentencing scheme was not one that required them to comply with Miller.
LAVYSo in 2018, the 4th Circuit said that in Malvo's case and in the case of others serving in Virginia, they did need to be resentenced under Miller. And so after that the Virginia Attorney General asked the Supreme Court to reverse the 4th Circuit decision and argue that he should not be resentenced under Miller. And that was the question before the court this part year.
NNAMDIAnd as a result of the legislation now passed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Lee Boyd Malvo can now face the possibility of parole in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
LAVYThat's right. And so both parties actually came together and filed a joint motion with the Supreme Court and asked the court dismiss Malvo's case in light of the fact that he is now parole eligible. I think it's important to remember that this is really a modest reform. It does not guarantee release for anybody. What it does is say that if you were a child at a time that we know you are growing and changing, we're going to check in on you later in life to determine whether you continue to pose a risk to society.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios in New York is Tony Harris who reported on the D.C.'s sniper shootings as a News Anchor in Baltimore, Maryland. He now hosts the podcast "Monster: D.C. Sniper." Tony Harris, thank you for joining us.
TONY HARRISKojo, good to be with you, good to be with you.
NNAMDIIn your podcast you reinvestigate the Beltway sniper attacks. For listeners who might not have been in the Washington region at that time or perhaps are too young to remember, can you describe what was going on?
HARRISWell, Kojo, first of all let me thank Jody for explaining all of the minutia in the Miller case, the Montgomery case, because I've been trying to figure out how to explain the Supreme Court and the way it was looking and ruling on these cases for a long time. And she just did it beautifully. So, Jody, thank you for doing it so I wouldn't have to. I think as I think back on 2002 what was stunning for us is this was a year removed from 9/11 and, Kojo, you remember how afraid we all were. And there was this feeling that there was another shoe that was going to drop.
HARRISAnd for a lot of people you get to that first week of October and it felt like the other shoe was dropping. And we had five people killed in one day the day before we had someone killed. And there was very little information. I was anchoring for a station in Baltimore at the time. And we were as any newsroom at the time was, we were scrambling for information. And we just couldn't be any information in the police in the DMV, and that's Washington D.C. and that the Metro area of Virginia and Maryland as well, and we were all scrambling and there was no information. Law enforcement wasn't giving us much of anything to go on, because they didn't have anything. And, you know, over the next 22 days or so the shootings continued. And it was sheer panic. People were warned not to do everyday things, walking, running, jogging, getting a little exercise, pumping gas, all of those things.
NNAMDIWe learned how to pumping gas while ducking.
HARRISThat's right. You're absolutely right. And kids, do we send our kids to school or do we not? And so it was a terrifying period. You know, we're all these years removed. But I had an opportunity with the podcast to revisit it and I was kind of scared all over again. It just reminded me of what a terrifying period that was.
NNAMDIEpisode eight of the podcast "Monster: D.C. Sniper" is a deep dive into Lee Boyd Malvo's past. What did you find out about him?
HARRISWell, I think the stunning thing is just the amount of abuse that he talks about in his life and the abandonment. And when Jody is talking about the considerations for the Supreme Court part of that is, you know, how do we sentence young people, who commit, you know, in many cases certainly in the case of Lee Boyd Malvo a heinous set of crimes with John Muhammed as the mastermind as you pointed out. This was a young man who in the really formative years, five until nine, was essentially being shuttled off from home to home as his parents were looking for work.
HARRISHe was essentially abandoned by his parents and, you know, fake cousins here and there were charged with taking care of him. And there is a period in time when he is 13, 14 years old when he's really struggling. He's essentially homeless. His mom is on different islands and in the States working and trying to make a living for herself. But, you know, Malvo was essentially left behind and abandoned and essentially homeless.
HARRISAnd this is when John Muhammed comes into his life and in the worst set of circumstances you can imagine as a kid who grew up abandoned in a home with abuse is essentially homeless. And here comes John Muhammed, smooth, tall, handsome and corrupt as the day is long. And he essentially did a number on this poor kid and indoctrinated him. And for all of the abuse that was a part of Lee Boyd Malvo's life he never turned that against others. It's not until he was linked with John Muhammed that we see all of this kind of pathological behavior.
NNAMDITony, what happened when Lee Boyd Malvo was convicted?
HARRISYeah. That's interesting. So during the trial it was a situation where, you know, he behaved oddly during the trial. He didn't seem to grasp the severity of his situation. And he's sentenced to a life without the possibility of parole and there he is. He is imprisoned. And, you know, there is point in time when he begins -- he talked to Anthony Mulley, who was a criminologist and he gave an interview to The Washington Post as well where he talked about his life in prison. And he talked about essentially how he felt he was changing and evolving and that he began to realize the severity of his actions. And he talked about the relationship with John Muhammed in great detail.
HARRISAnd, you know, the feeling was that he was beginning to understand the depth of his situation, and was beginning to mature as a young boy at the time into a young man. And that realization was taking hold. And he felt he needed to tell his story. And so then the question becomes what do you believe in the story? There are people who are highly skeptical of the story that he tells of the abuse in every aspect of his life. But at least the high court said, we should at least consider, you know, a young person's environment and we should consider new brain science and what it tells us about the young mind. And I think that's part of the consideration certainly for Malvo's appeals moving forward.
NNAMDIJody Kent Lavy, Malvo was a teenager when he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. Why do you believe a punishment like that is so problematic?
LAVYWell, I think we need to just start by saying, you know, children can and do commit serious crimes. And the question that we have to answer as a society is how we want to hold them accountable for those crimes. And what we've learned is that young people are fundamentally different from adults. They don't have the same capacity to think through the consequences of their actions or assess risks. They also have a unique capacity for rehabilitation. And so those are all factors that the U.S. Supreme Court has said are relevant when determining what an appropriate sentence is for a child, and in fact, said that therefore life without parole really should be rare.
LAVYAnd what we've seen over the last, you know, eight-10 years is incredible momentum among state legislatures moving away from imposing life without parole on children and in fact banning that practice all together. Virginia as I said a most recent example. And we're hoping that Maryland will soon follow suit because it is currently out of step with this national trend. But I also think it's worth acknowledging that Lee Malvo is in some ways, you know, representative of others serving this sentence, but in some ways he isn't.
LAVYAnd I think it's important to acknowledge that most of the people who have been sentenced to life without parole as children did not kill 10 or more people. Most of them, you know, many of them -- a quarter of the people serving this sentence actually were not the trigger men. And in fact and they were convicted of felony murder. And where he is representative is in his past and looking at the trauma that he endured. That is something that's common among young people, who have been sentenced to life without parole.
LAVYAnd so I think that that raises a really important issue here, which is that when someone commits harm are we to just disregard everything we know about children and our responsibility to them to protect them and to acknowledge that trauma? And I would say no. We can't disregard all of that. It doesn't mean that we're not holding them accountable. We absolutely need to, but the juvenile justice system was set up to hold children accountable in an age appropriate way and that needs to be the focus.
NNAMDIIndeed. We got a tweet from Roger who said, "This person might be the least appropriate person to consider for parole or to use as an example of this new legislation. Using him as a case makes me ill." So you've got to understand that there are people like Roger. What should justice look like for somebody like Lee Boyd Malvo, who has committed what everybody knows were terrible crimes?
LAVYYeah. Again, I mean, I think that you have to take each case individually, and that is what these reforms are doing, right. It's really important to acknowledge that young people who are sentenced to life without parole were given a final irrevocable judgement imposed on them at a time when we know that they're growing and changing in their character is not yet fully formed. So the purpose of these reforms are to give a second look. To take a look at somebody later in life once they are fully mature to determine whether or not they pose a risk to society, and at that point determine whether they can be freed.
NNAMDISimone writes on our Facebook page, "The period when he and his mentor held the D.C. region in fear is still etched upon my memory. That said no child should grow up, live through middle age and their elderly years to die in a prison system. It will be interesting to see how this plays out." Well, what would be the opinion of somebody who was one of the targets of the Beltway snipers? We're going to take a short break and when we come back we will talk with precisely such an individual. You can still call us 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Should convicted D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo receive a new sentence? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking about a new cookbook that makes the humble bean a super star. Right now we're discussing a new law in Virginia that may make it possible for Lee Boyd Malvo one of the Beltway snipers in 2002 who killed 10 people in this region, it offers him the possibility of parole.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Jody Kent Lavy, Executive Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, and Tony Harris who reported on the D.C. sniper shootings as television news anchor in Baltimore. He now hosts the podcast "Monster: D.C. Sniper." Before we go to our next guest, Tony, it should be pointed out that even if Lee Boyd Malvo is paroled in the Commonwealth of Virginia, he still faces life sentences in Maryland.
HARRISYeah. That's absolutely the case. There is six cases where he was found guilty and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in Maryland as well. I'd love to go back to the point that Jody was making just a bit earlier, because I think it's an important one about these cases and how Malvo's case feels really distinct and you get really strong reactions. We certainly have in airing these episodes of the podcast to the idea of whether or not there should be a review of the sentencing for Lee Boyd Malvo.
HARRISAnd I will tell you it is interesting from my perspective, the idea of our values and principles and what we care about and what we believe are really tested in the most stressful of circumstances, right. And so you can make a reasonable argument that someone, who as a young person committed a heinous crime maybe killed someone caught up in a group or a gang or something, you can make an argument that that person should get a resentencing if sentenced to life without the possibility without parole. But you're really tested in your beliefs and what you feel about appropriateness when you look at a case like Lee Boyd Malvo's, who this is a young man who along with John Muhammed committed a horrible string of atrocities.
HARRISAnd so what we believe is really put to the test in the harshest of circumstances. So that's why I believe the Malvo case is such an important one for use to be discussing today.
NNAMDIIndeed. Here's what Iman in Chantilly, Virginia thinks. Iman, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IMANThanks for taking my call, Kojo. I think the guests today are missing the point. What about this young man now, he's become a victim, instead of he took 10 people's lives. There is a lot of -- those people, they lost their father. They lost their mother. There are children out there today who don't have their parents, because of this young man. By acting that he is the victim right now, to me it's outrageous. He was 15 years old.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to say this. Allow me to say this. No one on this broadcast has said that Lee Boyd Malvo is a victim. That is your interpretation of what they are saying.
IMANWell, they're looking for -- now they're saying, because he was a young he committed crimes.
NNAMDIWell, let me talk to one of the people against, whom he committed a crime because one of the targets of the shootings, who did not die is Paul LaRuffa. He is a Survivor of the D.C. Sniper Attacks. And he joins us now by phone. Paul LaRuffa, thank you for joining us.
PAUL LARUFFAYou're quite welcome.
NNAMDIPaul, what do you remember about the night you were shot?
LARUFFAI remember every second, and I still remember it. It doesn't haunt me, but I can describe every second of what I experienced.
NNAMDIAs briefly as possible, can you describe it?
LARUFFAYeah, the brief version is that I left my restaurant. I owned a restaurant in Clinton, Maryland. My wife and I were in our 17th year of ownership. I left the restaurant at probably about 10 after 10:00 in the evening, as I had done literally thousands of times over the 17 years. I walked out with two other individuals. I didn't ever leave alone. I was always with people for security reasons just not leaving alone.
LARUFFASo I left with two other individuals. So I went to my car and they proceeded to go to their cars in the parking lot in front of the restaurant. I put my bank bag and my laptop computer in the backseat. I shut the door. I opened the driver's door and sat down. Shut the door. And before I could start the car or do anything, the window next to me exploded with the first shot. And four more shots came in the window, and I was being shot.
LARUFFAAnd a lot happened. A lot went through my mind. I was conscious. I was bleeding. I got up and I got out of the car. And my friend was walking towards me with his phone. Remember in those days it wasn't -- not everybody had a cell phone. And so he had a little flip phone as they were back then. And he dialed 911 what seemed to take a long time, but really was a matter of minutes. The emergency folks arrived. The ambulance arrived and got me to the hospital in Prince George's trauma center about 18 miles away, which was the longest drive of my life. And they operated on me for seven or eight hours and saved my life.
NNAMDIPaul, how much is that shooting still a part of your life almost 20 years later?
LARUFFAWell, it doesn't haunt me. It doesn't haunt me. It's an event that took place. And I am -- I don't forget it. You're never over it. It's never over, but the good part is it doesn't haunt me. It doesn't affect my life. I can talk about it. I can relate it. It's emotional, but it's something that happened that will never go away.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about the men who carried out those attacks?
LARUFFAWell, I feel quite differently today than I did then. What I felt then was what probably 99 percent of people would feel. I felt anger. I felt resentment. I felt hatred. When I learned who it was it was 50 days later. When I was shot there was obviously no relation to the sniper event. So what was crazy is that I went through what everybody else went through on October. I was out of the hospital by then. And I was back at the restaurant actually.
LARUFFAAnd I pumped my gas ducking and did everything that everybody else did not realizing, of course, that the guys that were doing this had already shot me. And took my laptop and took my bank bag and used the money to finance what they did from September 5th through October 23rd. So I had a lot of resentment, and I went to the trials. And honestly when the sentences were doled out I didn't have a problem with life without parole for Malvo.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about it now for Lee Boyd Malvo?
LARUFFAWell, I feel quite differently about it, because I've learned a lot over the years and especially over the last year or two. I learned a lot. I learned about science. I learned about it was brain science. I really got to think about children are different than adults. At the time, did I think that he was different than John Muhammed? No. I thought they both committed the same crimes and they should get the same sentence. But then now I realize that there is a real difference between children and adults and in some really strong ways mainly that -- as Jody said, I won't repeat it. That children act on emotion rather than reason and their brains aren't developed.
LARUFFAAnd so I think that's real. So do I feel differently about it? Yes, because of things I've learned and people I've experienced. I had the experience of spending two days with people, who have been released under similar bills that Virginia has and other states have have been released after serving eight, 10, 20 to more than 40 years in jail. And they were released and they're contributing to society and they are absolutely different people than they were when they were 15, 16, 17 years old.
NNAMDIIn case you didn't --
LARUFFAAnd they were given the opportunity and they took advantage of it. And they're fine members of society now. So that to me is more right than condemning a child to live the rest of their life knowing they will die in prison.
NNAMDIWhich is why Paul LaRuffa has thrown his support behind the legislation in Virginia. We don't have a lot of time left, but before we go, first Jody and then Tony. What do we know about, who Lee Boyd Malvo is today?
LAVYWell, I think what we know is that regardless of, you know, his crimes and everything from his past he's going to have to demonstrate to a parole board that he has changed. And even then he still has these life without parole sentences in Maryland. So there is a long road ahead for him. But the good news is there is now hope for dozens -- actually hundreds of others in the State of Virginia, because of the law that was passed by Virginia last week.
NNAMDIAnd you should know that new episodes of Tenderfoot TV and iHeartRadio's "Monster: D.C. Sniper" are out every Thursday and you can listen where you get your podcast. Tony Harris is the creator and host. Tony, what do we know about who Lee Boyd Malvo is today?
HARRISI think that's a great question. And I'm hoping to find out and find out soon. We have obviously petitioned to have -- to get a new interview with him. We hope that happens. We think he was waiting until this decision to make a decision on that. And the prison system has allowed us to -- given us permission to go and to talk to him. It's up to him now. And I am looking forward to that. I can't wait. And I'll have a better answer for you.
NNAMDITony Harris reported on the D.C. sniper shootings as television news anchor in Baltimore, Maryland. He now hosts the podcast "Monster: D.C. Sniper." Jody Kent Lavy, Executive Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. And Paul LaRuffa is a Survivor of the D.C. Sniper Attacks. Thank you all for joining us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back a new cookbook makes the humble bean a super star. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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