The Sniper Saga Could Have Been Far Worse

If you believe Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger of the two Beltway snipers, the killing spree that took 10 innocent lives could have been a whole lot worse. Malvo has just told a Maryland jury that John Allen Muhammad, the triggerman of the shootings, planned to six shooting episodes a day for an entire month to be followed by a bombing campaign that would target schools and hospitals. We're going to "terrorize these people," Malvo quoted Muhammad as saying just before the deadly shootings began in 2002.

Having pleaded guilty to murder, and already serving a life sentence under Virginia law, Malvo is appearing as the prosecution's star witness against his former co-defendant. And the story he is telling, if true, is chilling not just for its specificity but for the matter-of-fact way in which Malvo is telling it. Spurned by his parents, Malvo became a willing accomplice to Muhammad's rage and only now, years later, is he begining to come clean about what they did and how they did it.

Shooting by shooting, murder by murder, the now-21-year-old is leading prosecutors and jurors through the deadly chronology. What he cannot do, of course, is explain precisely how it came to be that Muhammad's world view became so twisted, so full of hate and violence, so open to causing death and pain and misery and terror. Those answers we may never know. But we sure know a lot more toward the end of the day about the sniper attacks than we did at the beginning and for that, I suppose, we should be satisfied, if not exactly grateful.

Soon, Muhammad himself (who shed his lawyers in this case) will get the opportunity to cross-examine Malvo in what surely will be a surreal and tense scene. Malvo earlier today told jurors that he once "loved" and worshipped Muhammad and consider their relationship to be as tight as father-and-son. So when the "father" faces the "son" in court it ought to be one of those moments in the life of a case, the life of a trial, the life of a story, that no one present will ever forget. Muhammad no doubt will try to convince jurors that Malvo has been brain-washed again, this time by the government. Good luck with that one, right?

I'll post later today if and when Muhammad gets to his cross-examination.

By  |  May 23, 2006; 3:00 PM ET
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