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Malvo gets life sentence in sniper killing

Teen charged with man's murder, attempt on woman's life

Lee Boyd Malvo
John Allen Muhammad

(CNN) -- Convicted teen sniper Lee Boyd Malvo was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for murder and attempted murder in the shootings of two people in Virginia during the fall 2002 sniper spree that terrorized communities surrounding the nation's capital.

Malvo, 19, was charged in the killing of Kenneth Bridges, 53, who was shot to death October 11, 2002, as he filled his car with gas at an Exxon station in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

He also was charged in the attempted murder of Caroline Seawell, 43, who was shot outside a Michaels Arts & Crafts Store, also in Fredericksburg. She later recovered from her wounds.

In addition, Malvo pleaded guilty to two firearms charges related to the cases.

He entered what is known as an Alford plea, which means he does not admit the criminal act but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to win a conviction.

Although treated as a guilty plea for sentencing, an Alford plea cannot be held against him in a subsequent criminal prosecution or civil proceeding. The plea originated in the case of North Carolina v. Alford, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1970.

Malvo -- who was 17 at the time of the crimes -- entered the pleas in Spotsylvania County Circuit Court. Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, he appeared taller than in previous appearances and spoke only briefly to answer the judge's questions, most of the time saying, "Yes, sir."

Judge William Ledbetter asked Malvo how he pleaded to each charge.

"Guilty," he said to each count.

At the end of the 10-minute hearing, Ledbetter said, "Mr. Malvo, the court accepts your pleas of guilty to these charges, finding that your pleas were freely, voluntarily and intelligently made."

Ledbetter sentenced him to life without parole for killing Bridges and attempting to kill Seawell. Malvo also got five years in prison on the firearms charge relating to the Bridges' shooting and three years on the firearms charge in Seawell's shooting.

Malvo was sentenced to life in prison in March after being convicted for the murder of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, outside a Home Depot in Fairfax, Virginia, one of 10 sniper killings and three injuries in October 2002.

His attorneys said they felt a plea deal was the best way to avoid the possibility of a death sentence.

The pleas brought to three the number of cases stemming from the sniper shootings in which Malvo has either admitted guilt or been found guilty.

His accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, was sentenced to death in March for a separate sniper killing in Virginia.

The two also are accused of carrying out a string of shootings in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Washington state.

Outside court, Malvo defense attorney Craig Cooley said the plea indicated Malvo's "acceptance of responsibility" in the shootings and that his client wanted to move forward and do something "positive" in his life.

"We're pleased to conclude this portion of the representation," he said. "Lee moves forward with his life. He certainly understands that he literally is facing a lifetime of incarceration. ... He tries to be positive."

Prosecutor William Neely said he approached Malvo's attorneys about entering a plea after he read a Washington Post story in which they said they hoped he would make an offer.

"So, I did," he told reporters.

The families of both victims were consulted and "they voiced no objections," Neely said.

As part of the plea deal, Malvo drops any appeals to his conviction in the killing of Franklin.

During his first trial, Malvo, a Jamaican, admitted taking part in the shootings, but his attorneys argued he was brainwashed by Muhammad.

Malvo still faces the possibility of receiving the death penalty in another Virginia case, but prosecutors in that case are awaiting a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of executing people for crimes they committed as juveniles.

He could face capital punishment in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Washington state, but the governor of Virginia is not expected to allow Malvo's extradition until after Virginia prosecutions are completed.

If the Supreme Court decides it is unconstitutional to execute juvenile offenders, other jurisdictions will likely settle for similar plea agreements, according to Malvo's attorneys.

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