A federal appeals court on Thursday said that life sentences imposed against one of two men involved in the deadly sniper shootings that traumatized the Washington, D.C., area in 2002 must be thrown out because he was only 17 at the time.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court judge that Lee Boyd Malvo should be resentenced for his role in the so-called D.C. sniper case, which left 10 people dead over three weeks in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.
It cited recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles violated the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and that this rule applied retroactively.
“We make this ruling not with any satisfaction, but to sustain the law,” Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote for a three-judge panel of the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court.
“As for Malvo, who knows but God how he will bear the future.”
Malvo, 33, had received four life sentences in Virginia, after being convicted of two murders and later entering a separate guilty plea to avoid the death penalty.
The office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said it might appeal to the entire 4th Circuit or the Supreme Court. It had argued that Virginia did not require mandatory life-without-parole sentences, and that part of Malvo’s
punishment could have been suspended.
“We are going to review the decision closely and decide how best to proceed in a way that ensures this convicted mass murderer faces justice for his heinous crimes,” said Charlotte Gomer, a spokeswoman for Herring.
Craig Cooley, a lawyer for Malvo, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Malvo’s older accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, was also convicted in connection with the shooting spree. Muhammad was executed in 2009 at age 48 in a Virginia state prison.
The appeals court said Malvo could be resentenced to life without parole if his crimes reflected “permanent incorrigibility,” or deserve a lesser punishment if his crimes reflected the “transient immaturity” associated with being 17.
Thursday’s decision affirmed a May 2017 ruling by U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk, Virginia, that struck down Malvo’s life sentences.
Malvo and Muhammad were arrested after police found them sleeping at a Maryland rest area in a Chevrolet Caprice.
The case is Malvo v. Mathena, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 17-6746.