Mandatory life sentences for juveniles deemed ‘cruel and unusual’ -- Gazette.Net


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Maryland’s conviction of Beltway sniper Lee Boyd Malvo may be more important now that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles, such as he received in Virginia, amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Then-Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler was criticized by some in 2006 when the county convicted Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, because Malvo already had been sentenced in Virginia to life without parole and Muhammad was sentenced to death for the October 2002 sniper spree that killed 10 and wounded three. Muhammad was executed in 2009 in Virginia. Malvo is serving his sentence at Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison.

“His conviction here was needed exactly for this kind of happenstance,” said current Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, who was the lead prosecutor in the 2006 cases.

“Clearly the reason we brought him back in Maryland was on the off-chance his [Virginia] convictions were reversed on appeal or if there was some other attack on the sentence,” McCarthy said.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday, in a 5-4 decision, that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Twenty six states, including Virginia, have mandatory life without parole in cases where the death penalty is not given as a sentence.

Malvo, who was 17 during the sniper spree, was sentenced to life without parole in Maryland after he pleaded guilty and served as a prosecution witness against John Allen Muhammad.

But because Maryland’s life without parole was not a mandatory sentence, it was not impacted by Monday’s narrow ruling.

One Virginia prosecutor still wishes he could have sought the death penalty against Malvo.

“I always think about him and other juveniles spared the death penalty from a previous ruling and now they’re going to be spared automatically serving a life term,” said Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert, who had wanted to try Malvo in his county for one of the Beltway slayings until a 2005 Supreme Court decision prohibited juveniles from being given the death penalty.

Ebert said he had not read the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday, but he thought it could mean Malvo’s Virginia sentences would now be life with the possibility of parole.

Malvo’s lead attorney in Virginia, Craig S. Cooley, did not return calls for comment.

In Maryland, 33 inmates are serving sentences of life without parole for crimes committed when they were juveniles, said Rick Binetti, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

cford@gazette.net