Supreme Court to Review Sentence of Beltway Sniper Co-defendant

March 19, 2019 Updated: March 19, 2019

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court has agreed to review the life-without-parole sentence of mass murderer Lee Boyd Malvo who was 17 years old when he and his older companion, dubbed the Beltway Sniper, committed 10 murders, terrorizing greater Washington for nearly two months in 2002.

The Supreme Court agreed on March 18 to review the case. The court will examine the life sentences without the possibility of parole that Malvo received in 2004, years before a landmark court ruling that found mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for those under 18 violated the Constitution in most cases.

Malvo, now 34, formed a team with John Allen Muhammad. Born John Allen Williams, Muhammad was an expert marksman who converted to Islam and joined the radical group, Nation of Islam. Muhammad, who was 25 years Malvo’s senior, illegally brought Malvo into the United States from Jamaica.

During their killing spree that lasted from Sept. 5 to Oct. 22, 2002, they shot victims at various locations from a rolling sniper’s nest they created by cutting a hole in the trunk near the license plate of a 1990 Chevy Caprice. Muhammad was executed by lethal injection in Virginia in 2009.

At Muhammad’s sensationalized trial in 2006, Malvo said Muhammad provided him with clothes and food and turned him into “a monster.” Malvo admitted to shooting three people and serving as a “spotter” in other shootings.

In June 2013, Malvo’s lawyers filed petitions in federal court, arguing the life sentences he received years before in Virginia were inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama which held that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishments.’”

In 2016, the Supreme Court held in Montgomery v. Louisiana that the Miller ruling “announced a substantive rule of constitutional law” that must be given “retroactive effect” in cases where direct review was complete at the time Miller was decided.

A district court refused to review Malvo’s sentence and he appealed. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court for reconsideration. The district court then vacated all of Malvo’s life sentences in Virginia and ordered him resentenced and the 4th Circuit upheld that ruling.

The circuit court found that the ruling in Montgomery confirmed that “a sentencing judge … violates Miller’s rule any time it imposes a discretionary life-without-parole sentence on a juvenile homicide offender without first concluding that the offender’s ‘crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility,’ as distinct from ‘the transient immaturity of youth.’”

Malvo is also appealing the life imprisonment without the possibility of parole sentences imposed on him in Maryland.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens stated in an Aug. 16, 2018, brief opposing review that Malvo “committed one of the most notorious strings of terrorist acts in modern American history.” They argued that the 4th Circuit misapplied legal precedent in ordering that Malvo be resentenced.

The date for oral arguments in the case known as Randall Mathena, Warden v. Lee Boyd Malvo has not yet been scheduled.