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Teenage Sniper Suspect 'Confesses to Three Killings'

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Teenage sniper suspect 'confesses to three killings'

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington

Monday November 11, 2002

The Guardian

The teenage half of the pair of expert marksmen accused of turning suburban Washington into their personal shooting gallery told police he personally pulled the trigger in at least three of the killings, it was reported yesterday.

The admission was made by John Lee Malvo, 17, during a seven-hour interrogation in a Virginia jail conducted without the presence of a lawyer or legal guardian.

It also happened in a state of legal limbo - after charges against Mr Malvo and the senior suspect in the killings, John Allen Muhammad, were dropped in Maryland, but before the two were formally charged in Virginia.

In his disclosures to his interrogators, the talkative and occasionally smiling Mr Malvo came close to bragging about the killings and the stalking technique which the two developed, the Washington Post reported.

For a prosecution which has made no secret of its eagerness to secure a rapid conviction and the ultimate penalty against the two, the confession is crucial. It was immediately challenged by Mr Malvo's court-appointed lawyer, and by legal experts who accused police of manipulating the tussle between Virginia and Maryland to try the suspects.

The experts also raised concerns about the absence of provisions to protect juveniles in Virginia's legal code.

The interviews with Mr Malvo were conducted on Thursday, after the attorney general, John Ashcroft, intervened to transfer Mr Malvo and Mr Muhammad from the authorities in Maryland to Virginia, which ranks second after Texas for imposing the death sentence. The two were formally charged in Virginia on Friday, and will be tried separately.

Before being produced in court, Mr Malvo told his interrogators that he fired the bullet that killed Linda Franklin in a car park, the Washington Post reported. The killing was one of the most extensively covered during the sniper's rampage, as it happened shortly after Franklin had undergone a double mastectomy for breast cancer, and on the eve of the birth of her first grandchild.

Police investigations since the capture of Mr Malvo and Mr Muhammad two weeks ago now appear to tie the men to as many as 12 killings across America. By the time they arrived in the Washington area, they were a killing machine.

Mr Malvo told his interrogators the pair would scout out the scene of each killing, relaying information on two-way radios. They also made it a habit to watch television coverage of each shooting, and to roam between police jurisdictions to befuddle their pursuers.

Such information is crucial for police as they try to disentangle the relationship between man and boy, and assign specific blame for the dead and wounded in their wake.

Virginia has in the past imposed the death penalty in murder cases where the accused did not physically pull the trigger, and the legal authorities appear intent on building on airtight cases for the death penalty against both accused. They have been charged under a new and untested anti-terror law, as well as for murder, and the decision to prosecute the two separately anticipates the most obvious defence for Mr Malvo that he was manipulated and controlled by a much older man.

A report in the New York Times yesterday further suggested that investigators had DNA evidence of Mr Malvo's presence at the scene of some of the shootings, and had found his fingerprints on the gun.

Mr Malvo's confession also chimes with the modifications made to the back of the pair's car, which was turned into a hide, with a hole for a weapon. Police told the newspaper they did not believe Mr Muhammad could fit into the space, but Mr Malvo, who was smaller, could.

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