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Expert: Malvo said he was spotter, not shooter

Psychologist says Malvo blamed himself for failure of 'mission'

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Malvo's attorneys say he was under Muhammad's control during the killings.
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John Allen Muhammad
Lee Boyd Malvo
Crime, Law and Justice

CHESAPEAKE, Virginia (CNN) -- A defense psychologist testified Monday afternoon that sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo told him convicted killer John Allen Muhammad shot an FBI analyst to death in October 2002.

In a taped confession, Malvo had said he was the shooter, and prosecutors built their case based on that scenario.

But psychologist Dewey Cornell said Malvo told him he was the spotter, and told Muhammad, "SAC one, go" -- "the sign that it was clear to take a shot," Cornell said.

Malvo, who was 17 during the attacks, is charged with capital murder, terrorism and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the death of FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside a Home Depot in Falls Church, Virginia, on October 14, 2002. He could face the death penalty.

Franklin was one of 10 people who were killed in the sniper shootings that terrorized Washington, D.C., and outlying areas of Maryland and Virginia for three weeks last fall. Three more people were wounded.

Muhammad was convicted last month of murder in another shooting, and the jury recommended a death sentence.

Prosecutors in his trial in nearby Virginia Beach contended that both the shooter and spotter were equally culpable in the attacks.

In the Malvo trial, however, prosecutor Robert Horan Jr. has said he must prove Malvo was the shooter under the capital murder statute in order to obtain the death penalty.

Cornell said Malvo's confession -- made to Fairfax County police and the FBI -- was "inaccurate," and was an attempt to spare Muhammad a death sentence.

The psychologist testified that Malvo told him "he was the spotter on every [sniper] shooting up until the last one," contradicting the statements he made to police.

"Lee always admitted that he was involved in the shooting with Mr. Muhammad," Cornell said. But the psychologist said he believes Malvo took the blame because he blamed himself "for the failure of the mission" when they were captured. Malvo was supposed to have been on lookout when they were captured, police said.

His attorneys don't dispute that he took part in the attacks, but contend he "accepts far too much responsibility" in confessing to pulling the trigger in virtually all of the shootings.

They argue that Malvo was influenced by Muhammad and are using an insanity defense.

Stormy childhood

Cornell also testified that Malvo's stormy childhood compelled him to seek a relationship with Muhammad.

"His mother was a disciplinarian. His mother was abusive to him. ... His mother not only believed in spanking but believed in beatings, and she beat him frequently," said Cornell, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia. "He spent a fair amount of time hiding from her."

Cornell testified that Malvo was about 15 when he met Muhammad at an electronics store on the Caribbean island of Antigua, and considered the older man a mentor and father figure.

The psychologist said Malvo was susceptible to indoctrination by Muhammad because of the absence of his father and frequent beatings by his mother.

Malvo revealed to Cornell that he once tied a sheet to a tree limb and climbed up on a chair, threatening to kill himself. Malvo's mother talked him down, Cornell said, but beat him for the incident.

Cornell said Malvo also was influenced by violent films and video games.

The defense showed jurors an eight-minute clip from the 1999 movie "The Matrix," a futuristic, special effects-filled action film, which attorneys said helped influence Malvo's turn to violence. Cornell said Malvo told him he had seen the movie about 100 times.

'Full indoctrinated'

Malvo and Muhammad came to the United States in mid-2001, Cornell testified, and Malvo "was fully indoctrinated by John Muhammad during this time."

The psychologist said Malvo told him that in the course of the sniper shootings, whenever he had misgivings about what they were doing, Muhammad was either there to counsel him -- or he would hear Muhammad's voice in his imagination.

Malvo began traveling with Muhammad about January 2002, 10 months before the sniper shootings. Cornell testified that Muhammad began training Malvo "full time" for a mission.

Cornell testified that Muhammad "psychologically indoctrinated" Malvo by isolating him from family and friends, exposing him to violent videos and games, training him how to use weapons and tactics, controlling his diet, personal hygiene and sleep, and lecturing him repeatedly about his political philosophy.

It was not until late May 2003, more than seven months after their arrest, that Malvo began breaking away from the older man's influence, Cornell said.

Malvo, he said, began to realize that Muhammad's vision to create a utopia with the proceeds of the sniper shootings did not make sense, asking, "If Allah was behind this, how could we fail?"

In all, Malvo and Muhammad are suspected of killing 13 people and wounding six in several states.

CNN's Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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