Carmeta Albarus on Her Relationship with Lee Boyd Malvo

The Making of Lee Boyd Malvo

“My reasons for taking on this project include the fact that the journey that led Malvo to this place is one that begs for understanding.”—Carmeta Albarus

We conclude our week-long focus on The Making of Lee Boyd Malvo: The D.C. Sniper with an excerpt from the introduction in which Carmeta Albarus describes her relationship with Lee Boyd Malvo and her work with his defense:

There was no doubt as to whether or not Lee Boyd Malvo committed the crimes for which he had been charged. There was no doubt as to whether or not he pulled the trigger in many of the shootings. The question that loomed for his defense, and for those around the world who had followed the horrible case, was why. Finding the answer was further complicated by the fact that without Malvo’s cooperation, it would be difficult to mount any meaningful defense. Malvo had provided the authorities with a full confession, taking responsibility for all the murders, and he had continued to maintain his guilt. Experts who had met with Malvo and assessed the situation suggested that it would take years for him to come to any true understanding of himself, separate from John Muhammad.

At the time of my appointment I was informed that my focus in the case would be limited to investigating and tracking Malvo’s life in the islands of Jamaica, where he was born, and Antigua, where he met John Muhammad. I was told that there would be little value in my meeting with Malvo, given his lack of cooperation. I challenged that position, for even as I recognized the frustration his attorneys might have been feeling, I knew from many years of professional experience that commonality of culture and ethnicity goes a long way in establishing trust, and trust is the hallmark of any successful client–attorney relationship. “I believe that you and your client will be better served if I played a more central role in meeting and working with him,” I remember telling Craig Cooley

I worked hundreds of grueling hours and finally established a relationship of trust with Lee Boyd Malvo. Once that trust was there, Malvo was more inclined to cooperate with his defense team. Ultimately, as previously stated, he was found guilty of capital murder in the death of Linda Franklin, but he was spared the death penalty and instead received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

The end of the trial did not signal an end to my interaction with Malvo, however; our communication has extended to the present time. The work that I have done with offenders over the years has fostered my belief that even in the worst of us there is the possibility of redemption. My continued contacts and interactions with Malvo contribute to an even better understanding of this.

In March 2005, the Supreme Court held (in Roper v. Simmons) that it was unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of eighteen. This ruling meant that Malvo would no longer face capital punishment in any of the other murder cases he had pending. At the time, he had already served two years of his life sentence. He had begun to write a journal of his life, tracing his steps from Kingston, Jamaica, into the hands of Muhammad. He knew that it was the desire to have a father that encouraged him to blindly follow Muhammad, and that he would never again be a part of the outside world. But he hoped that his story would be a lesson to fathers and sons, to mothers who have to be both mother and father, and to youth who sometimes are blinded by what they want to see rather than what they should be seeing. He thought it could warn others who might be at risk of going down a destructive path. The account that follows is partly informed by Malvo’s own journal, along with my own investigations into his early life; the opinions of his friends, teachers, and family members; and my own impressions as I came to understand him.

My reasons for taking on this project include the fact that the journey that led Malvo to this place is one that begs for understanding. From all accounts, until he met John Muhammad, Malvo was a youth with tremendous potential. His academic pursuits since incarceration confirm the possibility of scholarly accomplishments. Like many who have worked with Malvo over the years, I am faced with the question of what made him capable of murder—and further, what it was about Malvo’s relationship with John Muhammad that led him to commit that crime.

Malvo himself has been confronted with these haunting questions. He has tried to retrace the steps that led to his destruction of so many lives. In his journal, he wrote:

I have been confronted by the shadows on my walls, making faces, as I retraced my steps along the road that led me here. The answer for a very long time has been a cloak of guilt and self-loathing wherein there have been nights when I have asked myself, “Will I choose to wake up tomorrow?” I see now by looking at these walls that they speak to me. No hope, prayer, wish or fear, or any desire will ever remove them. Like my past they are concrete. I find within myself and many of my fellow prisoners that it is not that we feel unloved but something much worse—we feel unlovable. If a man has never experienced love, then I ask how can we expect him to express it. I surrendered my life to John Muhammad who showed me what I thought was love.

(The reader will see, from the journal passage above and many reprinted throughout this book, that Malvo’s writings are very “adult” in their style and word choice. They are presented exactly as he wrote them, with minor edits to correct spelling errors only. His style reflects one method of Muhammad’s indoctrination, in which Malvo was forced to memorize various speeches and books, as will be discussed in section 2. In section 3, Jonathan Mack will present a psychological explanation of Malvo’s writing style.)

This book goes beyond the point of how Malvo became the sniper to discover the processes of his evolution. As we look into these factors it is important to be mindful of how his actions affected us individually, and collectively as a society. We are also concerned with the question of whether there are other Lee Boyd Malvos out there, and how can we minimize the risk of similar acts of violence.

In writing this work, certain considerations came to mind. Would a book like this affect Malvo’s legal status, given the magnitude of his crimes and the numerous jurisdictions involved? (As of this writing, there are no further cases pending against him.) Then there was Malvo’s age: he was seventeen years old at the time of the sniper shootings, and even at twenty-seven (when I completed this manuscript), he was still ascending into adulthood. It might seem a bit premature to tell the story of his life, given that he is still developing his own thoughts and identity, and his perspectives might easily change. The decision to write this book at this time is a recognition that Malvo’s circumstances have been anything but normal, and that his story might be best told while it is still recent enough to be useful.

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