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Sniper Lawyers Challenge Insanity Defense

December 4, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) _ Prosecutors complained Thursday that Lee Boyd Malvo’s lawyers have not produced enough evidence to support an insanity defense in the Washington sniper spree.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. told the judge that he is contending with ``an insanity defense that’s like a puff of smoke.″

Prosecutors stopped short, however, of asking Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush to disallow such a defense.

Lawyers for the 18-year-old Malvo, on trial for his life in the shooting death of an FBI analyst, contend he was brainwashed and turned into a killer by John Allen Muhammad. Muhammad, 42, was convicted last month in the case, and the jury recommended a death sentence.

While the jury in Malvo’s case was out of the courtroom, prosecutors said none of the mental health reports provided so far by the defense have said anything about Malvo being insane.

Horan said one report concludes only that Malvo is ``severely impaired in his ability to determine right from wrong″ _ insufficient evidence for an insanity defense under Virginia law.

``He doesn’t say he was insane. He says he was `severely impaired,‴ Horan said.

Horan argued that letting Malvo’s attorneys proceed with the insanity defense would let them introduce evidence allowed only in the sentencing phase of the trial, should there be a guilty verdict.

Defense attorney Craig Cooley responded that Virginia law does not define insanity but that he has experts prepared to say Malvo could not tell right from wrong.

The judge said she expects to question many of the mental health experts outside the jury’s presence to determine what their testimony will be before allowing the jury to hear it.

Also Thursday, a clinical psychologist testified that Malvo was cheerful during a daylong neuropsychological evaluation in August, a mood he called ``really quite odd.″

``It was almost a goofy affect, if you will, which seemed quite out of step with the seriousness of the situation,″ said David Schretlen, who teaches at Johns Hopkins University. ``My conclusion is that Mr. Malvo produced an abnormal neuropsychological examination.″

Schretlen said on cross-examination that he found no evidence of psychosis.

Also Thursday, the judge ordered attorneys stop talking to the news media after The Washington Post published a letter written by Malvo months before the sniper spree that left 10 people dead in and around the nation’s capital.

The judge had refused to let defense attorneys show or read the letter to the jury, ruling it hearsay.

Prosecutors told the judge they did not leak the letter.

Cooley said he did not provide the letter to the newspaper. Another defense attorney, Michael Arif, refused to answer. ``I think the inquiry is inappropriate,″ he told the judge.

Arif had argued Wednesday that the jury should be allowed to see the letter because it showed Malvo’s gloomy state of mind.

The judge also said she was disturbed by the daily news conferences defense attorneys had been holding after court. ``I think it’s an attempt to reach the jurors or the jurors’ families,″ Roush said.

The defense entered into evidence drawings and several notes that guards found in Malvo’s cell earlier this year.

In one, sniper crosshairs have been sketched on a drawing of the White House. An inscription above the drawing says: ``You will weep and moan & MORN. You will bleed to death. little by little. Your life belongs to Allah. HE will deliver you to us.″

To one side of the crosshairs, it says, ``Sept. 11 we will ensure will look like a picnic to you. ... You can count on the above statement with every drop of my blood, being and soul.″

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