There was a magnificent story in the Washington Post over the weekend and, as I read the “exclusive” about Lee Boyd Malvo, I found myself wishing I could help get his message to two distinctively different groups of people – those who would actually shoot somebody and those who a bullet has left behind.
Ten years ago Malvo was half of a twisted sniper team that shocked and terrified the nation when he, just 17 at the time, and an evil man named John Allen Muhammad went on a horrific killing spree. It left 10 of 13 unsuspecting victims dead in the Washington, D.C., area alone and three other random deaths elsewhere were also confirmed.
Malvo would later claim the two – a psychopath and a kid -- actually shot 42 and while that has been discounted by authorities, there is no doubt the gruesome killing binge is still among the worst crimes in our country’s history. Muhammad was sentenced to death and executed in 2009 while Malvo will remain in a super-max prison for the rest of his life.
Josh White, a reporter for the Washington Post, was allowed to talk to Malvo in four separate recorded telephone calls last month on this, the tenth anniversary of the carnage that left at least 15 families and friends scarred for a lifetime. And you want to know what the kid remembers the most about the whole thing? “Mr. Franklin’s eyes.”
Malvo was hidden on a hill overlooking a shopping center on the outskirts of Washington, in Seven Corners, Va., to be exact, when his “handler” – Muhammad – told him via walkie-talkie to “take out” an innocent and unknowing woman who was walking towards the Home Depot store. Shortly after the pair was finally arrested, Malvo laughed about it, actually pointing to his head to show where the high-powered bullet struck and killed a beautiful woman named Linda Franklin.
Today, 10 years later? He remembers one day at his trial and -- of all that happened before, during, and since -- his single most vivid memory is “Mr. Franklin’s eyes.” He remembers looking at the eyes of the man whose wife’s life he had stolen. “(His eyes) are penetrating. It is the worst sort of pain I have ever seen in my life. His eyes … words do not possess the depth in which to fully convey that emotion and what I felt when I saw it …. You feel like the worst piece of scum on the planet.”
Malvo spends every day in solitary confinement. He can neither talk nor communicate with others in the SuperMax facility. He is allowed only one hour each day to either shower or exercise outside his small, windowless cell, Malvo told the writer White, “I was a monster,” he said in honest fashion. “If you look up the definition, that’s what a monster is. I was a ghoul. I was a thief. I stole people’s lives. I did someone else’s bidding just because they said so. . . . There is no rhyme or reason or sense.”
It has been widely agreed that Malvo, a 14-year-old kid from a broken home and meager surroundings when he was “adopted” by the sinister Muhammad, was brain-washed, or “handled,” and even lied for the older man during the trial and up to his execution. What, pray tell, is the difference in Muhammad and a street gang that preys on the same type kids?
“I leaned on him, I trusted him,” Malvo said in the Post interviews. “I was unable to distinguish between Muhammad the father I had wanted, and Muhammad the nervous wreck that was just falling to pieces. He understood exactly how to motivate me by giving approval or denying approval. It’s very subtle. It wasn’t violent at all. It’s like what a pimp does to a woman. He picked me because he knew he could mold me. He knew I could be what he needed me to be. He could not have chosen a better child.”
Obviously, that is what the jurors saw and that is why Muhammad has been executed while Malvo will rot his entire adulthood away in wretched confinement. But there is a far greater lesson that everyone ever involved or victimized by a bullet should learn from the serial murderer.
During Muhammad’s trial, Malvo was temporarily kept in a Virginia jail where he was able to watch an educational video that explained a criminal’s individual actions do not just devastate a single family but also their neighbors, their community and anyone who had ever come in contact with their victim.
Here is what Malvo said and, oh, how I wish every kid alive could read it. “Once I began to list the victims for every single possible crime that I could think of, the number, quickly, it was like multiplying by seven. It just exponentially grew,” Malvo said on tape.
“The enormity of it. When you’re in the midst of doing the shooting, that was my sole focus. I didn’t give it thought,” he said. “You never get a grasp on what exactly you actually did and what the ramifications were for others.”
So what would he say or possibly express to those just like “Mr. Franklin” after thinking about it every day for 10 years?
“We can never change what happened,” he told the writer White. “There’s nothing that I can say except this -- don’t allow me and my actions to continue to victimize you for the rest of your life. It may sound cold, but it’s not. It’s the only sound thing I can offer. You and you alone have the power to control that. And, you take the power away from this other person, this monster, and you take control..
“Don’t allow myself or Muhammad to continue to make you a victim for the rest of your life,” Malvo asked. “It isn’t worth it.”
Neither is taking the life of any other person. Every gunman should know that come ten years later, “It isn’t worth it.”