Washington, DC – U.S. Supreme Court justices heard arguments on Wednesday about whether Beltway Sniper Lee Malvo was wrongly sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Malvo was 17 years old in 2002 when he helped his adult partner target and kill 10 people in the Maryland, DC, Virginia metropolitan area, WRC reported.
The shootings, which went on over a three-week period, paralyzed and terrified the region.
Now Malvo’s attorneys have said their client deserves a new trial because of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles, WRC reported.
In 2012, the court held that teenage killers couldn’t automatically be sentenced to life without parole.
“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the decision, according to WTOP.
And then four years later, in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court made that ruling retroactive, opening up the door for numerous prisoners sentenced as juveniles to have their life sentences reviewed, WRC reported.
The state of Virginia has argued that Malvo was not sentenced to a “mandatory” term because the judge in his case had the option to suspend part of his prison term, but opted not to.
Virginia Solicitor General Toby J. Heytens said the jury in Chesapeake had been presented with the choice of the death penalty or life without parole, and had chosen not to give Malvo a death sentence, The New York Times reported.
However, Heytens also pointed out that the judge could have imposed a lighter sentence than life without parole if he had felt it was warranted.
Malvo’s attorneys have argued that, at the time, Virginia judges and attorneys didn’t realize they had the option of reducing the sentence, WTOP reported.
The justice’s ruling on Malvo’s case will actually mean more to other offenders fighting to have their sentences changed than it will to the Beltway Sniper because he has also been convicted in Maryland and is facing six life-without-parole terms in that state as well, according to WRC.
Numerous advocates have voiced concern about using Malvo as the face of an effort to reduce sentences for youthful offenders because it would be difficult for the justices to feel sympathy for his plight.
In addition to the Beltway Sniper murders in the DC area, Malvo and his partner were also suspected of additional shootings in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, and Washington State, The New York Times reported. Malvo could still be charged in connection with those murders.
Although Malvo was 17 when he and 41-year-old John Muhammad went on their killing spree around the Beltway, a number of the justices were residents of the Washington metropolitan area during the Beltway Sniper’s reign of terror.
Muhammad was sentenced to death for his role in the sniping and executed in 2009 for the murder of Dean Harold Myers in Prince William County, Virginia, WRC reported.