Maryland’s highest court ruled that Washington, D.C.-area sniper Lee Boyd Malvo has to be resentenced due to U.S. Supreme Court decisions on constitutional protections for juveniles made after his sentencing.
Malvo had been sentenced to six life sentences without the possibility of parole. He was 17 at the time of the murders.
The Maryland Court of Appeals said it is unlikely that Malvo would ever be released because he is also serving separate life sentences for murders in Virginia.
“As a practical matter, this may be an academic question in Mr. Malvo’s case, as he would first have to be granted parole in Virginia before his consecutive life sentences in Maryland even begin,” Judge Robert McDonald wrote in the majority opinion released Friday.
But it is not up to the Court of Appeals to determine Malvo’s sentence or whether he should ever be released from his Maryland sentences, McDonald wrote.
“We hold only that the Eighth Amendment requires that he receive a new sentencing hearing at which the sentencing court, now cognizant of the principles elucidated by the Supreme Court, is able to consider whether or not he is constitutionally eligible for life without parole under those decisions,” he wrote.
The 37-year-old Malvo is currently in custody at the Red Onion State Prison in Virginia.
He and his mentor, John Allen Muhammad, shot people in Virginia, Maryland and Washington as they carried out everyday tasks like pumping gas and loading packages into their vehicles. The shootings took place during a three-week period in 2002, when Malvo was 17 and Muhammad was 41.
Muhammad was executed in 2009 after receiving a death sentence.
Malvo voluntarily testified against Muhammad in Maryland. He pleaded guilty in 2006 to six counts of first-degree murder in Montgomery County.
The prosecutor said in sentencing that year that Malvo was previously under the sway of an “evil man” and had “grown tremendously” since the shootings, the Court of Appeals ruling said.
The ruling said Malvo’s sentence was “consistent with the pertinent State statute and with the advisory State sentencing guidelines at that time.”
“Since then, however, the Supreme Court has held that the Eighth Amendment does not permit a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile homicide offender if a sentencing court determines that the offender’s crime was the result of transient immaturity, as opposed to permanent incorrigibility,” the ruling explained.
The ruling also pointed out that the Supreme Court has held that the legal constraint applies retroactively.
Judges Jonathan Biran, Brynja Booth and Joseph Getty joined McDonald in the majority. Judges Shirley Watts, Michele Hotten and Steven Gould dissented.
“The record demonstrates that Mr. Malvo received a personalized sentencing procedure at which his youth and its attendant characteristics were considered, and the circuit court was aware that it had the discretion to impose a lesser sentence,” Watts wrote.
Hotten noted that any alleged finding of corrigibility “did not render petitioner’s sentences unconstitutional disproportionate as applied.”
“Rather the proportionality of Petitioner’s sentences must be weighed against the severity of his crimes,” Hotten wrote. “Petitioner committed some of the worst crimes in the history of the State. It was not grossly disproportionate that a heavy penalty was imposed.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.