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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Second Sniper Suspect Found Guilty

Aired December 18, 2003 - 16:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now the other story that's been breaking at this moment.
A verdict has been reached in the trial of teenage sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo. It's all been happening within the past few minutes.

Our Elaine Quijano out in front of the courtroom right now. Malvo, as you know, now 18, faces terrorism, capital murder and weapons charges in the 2000 killings that were taking place last year -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Kyra.

Just getting those verdicts in as we speak, guilty on all three counts, the verdicts now in. Let's go through them one by one. The first count, capital murder in the commission of -- or attempted commission of an act of terrorism, guilty, the jury returning that verdict.

On the second count, capital murder as well, killing at least two people within a three-year period, the jury finding him guilty of that, and guilty, also, for use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

This jury deliberating roughly 13 hours over two days, a jury of four men and eight women. They included teachers and a minister among them -- this jury, the judge telling the people before the verdict was read to maintain decorum in the courtroom. We can tell you that family members of Linda Franklin have been here at the courthouse for much of this trial. Today, they're here as well.

So far, I'm seeing a lot of activity outside the courtroom as word of the verdicts is trickling out, again, guilty on the terrorism count. The prosecutors in this case had said that Malvo participated in this, the murder, in an attempt to influence the government, also capital murder, guilty on the second capital murder count and guilty on the count of use of a firearm in the commission of a murder.

What this means is that Lee Malvo, who was 17 years old at the time of his arrest, now 18 years old, will be eligible for the death penalty. being found guilty on the capital murder counts. And the procedure now, the process that will take place as they move into a penalty phase will be much like a mini-trial, in that prosecutors will be allowed to have victim-impact testimony, will be allowed to put relatives of the sniper victims before the court to talk about the impact that these crimes have had on their lives, in presenting their case why Malvo should be put to death. Prosecutors have already indicated that they intend to put several relatives before the court in that process. The defense, meantime, will try to present mitigating factors, reasons why they feel that Malvo should not receive the death penalty in this case.

Now, we don't have any indication, as of yet, just how quickly they intend to move into the penalty phase, as I said, those verdicts just trickling out now. Family members have been here on site. And we'll bring you their reactions just as soon as we get them, if, in fact they do decide to speak.

However, with the penalty phase now having to get under way, they will probably not speak beforehand, although there is a podium set up if they do decide to speak -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Our Elaine Sneddon.

You heard it first right here on CNN, just out of the courtroom, Elaine telling us that a verdict has been reached in the case of teenage sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo, once again, found guilty on three charges, terrorism, capital murder, the use of a firearm in a felony. And, as you know, as Elaine was saying, terrorism is punishable by either death or life without parole, obviously, the capital murder punishable by either death or life without parole, and first-degree murder punishable by 20 years to life.

Our Wolf Blitzer now coming in on a very busy day.

Wolf, everything happening, from the charges in the Michael Jackson case being formally filed, nine counts, seven of molestation, two counts of giving an intoxicant and now the verdict in the Lee Boyd Malvo case.

You're going to take it from here.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Kyra. A lot of news unfolding very much in the news right now, Lee Boyd Malvo guilty on all three charges.

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. He has been monitoring this case, along with all of us, especially those of us who lived in the greater Washington D.C. area when the sniper suspects were then engaged in what they both have now been convicted of doing.

What's your initial thought, as you hear guilty all three counts?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: My initial thought is that this is no surprise.

This case had overwhelming evidence. And, unlike the Muhammad case, the Malvo case also included a confession. He confessed -- Malvo confessed to shooting Linda Franklin. He later tried to recant it. But in light of this overwhelming evidence, in light of this automobile that I think everyone knows was set up as a sniper's nest, in light of the confession, I think anything other than a conviction would have been a total shock.

BLITZER: What about the argument the defense tried to make, that this was a young kid -- he was only 17 years old at the time -- he was brainwashed by John Allen Muhammad and he really didn't know, didn't understand completely what he was doing?

TOOBIN: Well, I think that was a good argument for the penalty phase. It really didn't work very well in the guilt phase, because the legal definition of insanity is very narrow.

And it really says you are not guilty by reason of insanity, in Virginia, if you're actively suffering from a mental illness. And brainwashing has never been found to be an actual mental illness. And I think, really, the whole defense in this case, wisely on the part of the defense lawyers, has not really been pitched towards the guilt phase, which was really pretty hopeless. But now I think they do have a fighting chance in the penalty phase.

That's what -- what the whole focus of the defense has been all along. And that's where we'll turn, probably as early as tomorrow.

BLITZER: And the penalty phase significant because they're going to argue, you know what? Yes, he was guilty, but he doesn't deserve the exact same punishment that John Allen Muhammad is going to get, capital punishment. He deserves something less because he was to so influenced by this man.

That's going to be the major thrust of their argument.

TOOBIN: That and his -- his really extreme youth.

Remember, we're one of the very few countries in the world that even considers executing people who are juveniles when they commit a crime. Seventeen years old is -- it's -- it's still very unusual to have executions of people who were juveniles when they committed a crime. Many states that have the death penalty don't allow it for juveniles.

And juries are reluctant to impose the death penalty on juveniles. So I think the defense has a much better chance of winning -- of winning a life sentence, as opposed to an execution, although the magnitude of this crime was simply horrendous. This is

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And the other point...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes. I was going to say, Jeffrey, the other point is that, by almost all accounts, the actual triggerman, the person who pulled the trigger in most of the killings, was the 17-year-old, Lee Boyd Malvo.

TOOBIN: And he confessed to it. I mean, it is a very strong case, this -- against Malvo. And his guilt has never really been in doubt. And that's what makes the penalty phase here so interesting and complicated and difficult, because you might think that the younger of the two is somehow less culpable, but all the -- most, let's say, of the available evidence suggests he was the triggerman.

So the jury, if -- if perhaps inclined to cut him a break because of his youth is not going to be inclined to cut him a break, because he's the one who fired the gun that killed these people.

BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey, stand by.

Our Jeanne Meserve is now outside of the courthouse. She was inside when the verdicts were announced.

Jeanne, give us a sense. What happened inside that courtroom?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was amazingly calm.

And there were members of a number of sniper victim families in there, members of the Meyers, Buchanan, Franklin, Walekar, Charlot, and Conrad Johnson families all in the courtroom when this verdict was red. So, of course, was Lee Malvo. Lee Malvo seemed to stare straight ahead as this was being read, stared at the clerk, didn't have any discernible emotional reaction, from where I sat.

And then he left the courtroom. The jurors came in without looking at Malvo. A couple of them did appear to be upset. One woman, at least, was wiping her eyes. A couple of other women appeared to be distraught over what was happening. But it was all over in a matter of minutes. And there was no audible reaction in the courtroom. And the families were escorted out of the courtroom before the press was allowed to leave. They wanted to give them their privacy, so they would not be mobbed by us.

I will tell you that the expressions on their face seemed to read relief. And Bob Meyers, at least, had a bit of smile on his face. Obviously, this is the verdicts the families wanted to hear, very much so, today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any indication, Jeanne, yet, whether we will actually hear from those families in the coming minutes and hours?

MESERVE: We just don't know. The court is really leaving it up to them as to whether they want to talk or not.

I will tell you that, in the Muhammad trial, there was a quick comment after this verdict in this phase of the trial and then more extended comments when the trial was completely over. This is something that's at the discretion of the families. We do not know if they're going to come down and talk to us today.

It would appear that the lawyers will not, because there is a gag order in effect in this case. It will remain in effect through the sentencing phase of this trial, which will start tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m.

BLITZER: And that -- that will presumably determine whether or not he's going to get the death sentence or something less, such as life in prison, perhaps without the possibility of parole.

Jeanne, go into the mind-set going into the decision today, the verdict today, among longtime court-watchers, observers. And you've been covering this trial from day one. John Allen Muhammad, you covered that one throughout all of the days of that trial. Was there a sense that this was going to be guilty, all three counts?

MESERVE: I can't really say that.

I think that everybody involved in the legal system is reluctant to make any projections about what kind of verdict there is going to be. People were hopeful on each side that the verdict would go their way. But I can't tell you that anyone truly believed that they knew which way it was going to go.

Let me tell you a little bit about the mitigation phase that's going to start tomorrow. We do know that the defense is flying in some people from Jamaica, also from Washington state. At one point, they also said someone from New York. They're going to be talking, again, about the young Lee Malvo, the Lee Malvo who was an obedient and, they say, very respectful child, until he ran into John Muhammad.

On the side of the prosecution, we expect that they may try to introduce in this phase of the trial the famous 911 tape of Ted Franklin calling in when his wife had been shot in the Home Depot parking lot. This is something that was allowed in the trial of John Muhammad. The judge did not let it into the guilt-and-innocence phase of this trial, but left open the door to it coming in now.

So that is something the jurors may hear in the next couple of days. Also, we do expect the prosecution to put on some mental health experts, including one Dr. Stanton Samenow, who was one of their expert witnesses during this phase of the trial. He's expected to talk a little bit more about his conclusions about Lee Malvo, which were not flattering and which portrayed him as a young man who had some behavioral problems long before he ever met John Muhammad.

Another thing you can expect to come up is the letters that were introduced into evidence this week. They were letters that -- or maybe last week -- my days are getting confused -- that Lee Malvo wrote in prison after, his defense team says, he was gain something distance from John Muhammad and beginning to think for himself.

These letters were written to another inmate at the jail. One of them talked about plotting for an escape attempt. And it indicated that is something that he would be trying to do, also indication there that he was still adhering to the philosophies that were imbued in him by John Muhammad. So you can bet, when they're talking about sentencing, when they're talking about future dangerousness, those are exactly the kinds of things the prosecution is going to want to set before the jury once again. This will not be extended. We expect that the defense will only take about a day and the prosecution only about a day. Then there will be rebuttal. And then there will be, also, closing arguments. But we expect this next phase to move somewhat quickly, because a lot of the defense mitigation evidence or potential mitigation evidence has already been introduced in the trial. It was the mental health testimony that they introduced during guilt and innocence.

They were able to do that because they were pursuing that not- guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict, the verdict they did not get here today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, please stand by, because we're going to continue our coverage on this.

Just to recap for our viewers, Lee Boyd Malvo guilty all three counts, guilty of terrorism, capital guilty of murder, and guilty of use of a firearm in the commission of murder. The terrorism and the capital murder guilty verdicts both carry with them the possibility of the death sentence, although that penalty phase, the deliberations on that will begin as early as tomorrow morning -- much more on this coming up.

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