Supreme Ct. appeal weighed by Md. for Beltway sniper resentencing

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is considering asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the order from the state’s highest court that convicted Beltway sniper Lee Boyd Malvo must be resentenced for his six Montgomery County murders.

Raquel Guillory Coombs, director of communications for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, told WTOP no decision has made as to whether the state will ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. An appeal to the Supreme Court would likely center on whether Maryland’s courts correctly interpreted and applied Supreme Court decisions on constitutional protections for juvenile offenders. Malvo was 17 at the time of the 2002 sniper rampage that terrorized the region. This October will mark 20 years since the attacks.

Maryland’s Court of Appeals last Friday ruled Malvo must be resentenced for his Montgomery County convictions. In 2006, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge sentenced Malvo to six life sentences without the possibility of parole for his Maryland crimes, after Malvo pleaded guilty for his role in the killing of six people in Montgomery County.

The victims in Montgomery County were James Martin, James Buchanan, Premkumar Walekar, Sarah Ramos, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera and Conrad Johnson.

Malvo is currently serving four life terms in Virginia. According to the panel’s opinion, Malvo’s resentencing may be an “academic question” since he would have to be granted parole in Virginia before beginning to serve his consecutive life sentences in Maryland.

As WTOP reported Monday, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy suggested he’s not certain Malvo will ever be resentenced in Maryland: “We would not see him, likely, for resentencing, until after he finishes his sentences in Virginia.”

A juvenile can no longer be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, unless the sentencing judge reflected “permanent incorrigibility.”

The Court of Appeals ruling, by a 4-3 majority, overturned the Montgomery County sentencing because the trial judge didn’t specify that Malvo’s crimes were based on “irreparable corruption.”

This would not be the first time Malvo’s case was argued before the Supreme Court.

On Oct. 16, 2019, Virginia prosecutors argued before the Supreme Court justices for the constitutionality of Malvo’s four life sentences without the possibility of parole. However, the case was dismissed in February 2020, after then-Virginia governor Ralph Northam signed a law that created the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders serving sentences of 20 years to life.

In addition, Malvo has a parallel — but paused — federal case in Maryland’s District Court challenging the constitutionality of his six life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Malvo’s federal case was filed in 2013, the day after the Supreme Court ruled mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

In 2017, federal judge Peter Messitte stayed Malvo’s suit while state appeals proceeded. The case is still active, although the last status report was filed in 2020.

Over three weeks in October 2002, John Allen Muhammad, 41, an expert marksman, and Malvo drove around parts of Maryland, D.C. and Virginia and randomly shot people from the trunk of a 1990 Chevy Caprice using a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle. Ten people died in the attacks.

The shootings started on Oct. 2, 2002. The FBI arrested Muhammad and Malvo on Oct. 24.

Muhammad was sentenced to death and was executed in Virginia in 2009.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up