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Maryland high court weighs DC beltway sniper’s resentencing bid

An attorney for a man serving six life sentences for an October 2002 killing spree in Montgomery County at age 17 urged Maryland’s top court Tuesday to order his client resentenced, saying the federal and state constitutions guarantee that juvenile offenders have a “meaningful opportunity for release.”

But a lawyer for the state told the Court of Appeals that Lee Boyd Malvo’s consecutive sentences did not violate the constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment in light of the multiple murders he pleaded guilty to having committed as half of the “Beltway sniper” pair.

Assistant Maryland Attorney General Carrie J. Williams added that Malvo will have the opportunity for a sentence reduction hearing after serving 20 years under the state’s Juvenile Restoration Act, which went into effect in October.

The Court of Appeals’ consideration of Malvo’s fate follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision that life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional unless the youngsters are found to be “incorrigible,” or hopelessly incapable of remorse and rehabilitation. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Jones v. Mississippi that deference is owed to a judge’s sentence of life in prison even in the absence of an express finding of the juvenile’s incorrigibility.

Pressing Malvo’s bid for resentencing, his attorney told the Court of Appeals that the Supreme Court’s juvenile rights decisions came after Montgomery County Circuit Judge James L. Ryan sentenced Malvo in 2006 to the life terms for killings that terrorized Maryland’s Washington, D.C., suburbs. Thus, Ryan had no high court command to consider fully Malvo’s youth and immaturity, Assistant Maryland Public Defender Kiran Iyer said.

“The basis of the (sentencing) decision was retribution, not incorrigibility,” Iyer said. Ryan did not consider the “diminished culpability of youth” that the Supreme Court later recognized in Miller, Iyer added.

If denied the chance to be resentenced, “Malvo might die with the same unconstitutional sentences he received in 2006,” Iyer said. “Malvo just wants the opportunity to get before a Maryland court.”

The defense attorney said the Juvenile Restoration Act’s call for sentence review after 20 years would provide inadequate relief for Malvo due to the uncertainty of whether the review would cover all of his six life sentences or just one.

Williams, in arguing against resentencing, said Malvo engaged in “a serious crime spree” that involved not just a single chain of events but six separate murders over a three-week period in which he had time to consider what he was doing.

“His sentences must be considered separately,” Williams said.

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty asked the dueling attorneys whether the Maryland Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel or unusual” punishment – found in Article 25 of the Declaration of Rights – provides greater protection for juvenile and other convicts than does the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Williams said that the two provisions are the same, calling the and versus or “a distinction without a difference.”

Iyer said the constitutional provisions generally offer the same level of protection, with the Maryland Constitution providing an additional safeguard for the Supreme Court’s Miller prohibition on life sentences for all but the most incorrigible juvenile offenders.

The Court of Appeals is expected to render its decision by Aug. 31 in the case, Lee Boyd Malvo v. State of Maryland, No. 29, September Term 2021.

John Allen Muhammad, Malvo’s adult co-defendant and alleged controlling mastermind of the killing spree, was executed in 2009 following his first-degree murder conviction in Virginia for a sniper slaying committed in that state.