Appeal of Lee Malvo, the Sniper Who Terrorized D.C., May Be Dismissed

The Supreme Court, which heard arguments in October about the fate of one of the men who terrorized the Washington region in the fall of 2002 with deadly sniper attacks, has been asked not to decide the case after all.

Lawyers for the man, Lee Malvo, and prosecutors in Virginia submitted a letter to the court on Monday asking the justices to dismiss his case. A new Virginia law, they said, rendered the case effectively moot.

Mr. Malvo was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad killed 10 people in sniper attacks in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Mr. Muhammad was sentenced to death, and he was executed in 2009.

Mr. Malvo was sentenced to life in prison by a judge in Virginia in 2004, before a series of Supreme Court decisions that limited harsh punishments for juvenile offenders. In his Supreme Court case, Mathena v. Malvo, No. 18-217, Mr. Malvo challenged his sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The new Virginia law made juvenile offenders eligible to be considered for parole after serving 20 years of their sentences. “There is no need for the Supreme Court to rule on a sentencing structure that will no longer exist,” Charlotte P.L. Gomer, a spokeswoman for Virginia’s attorney general, Mark R. Herring, said in a statement.

As a practical matter, a ruling from the Supreme Court in Mr. Malvo’s favor would not have helped him. He has also been sentenced to life without parole in Maryland after pleading guilty to six murders there, and he is challenging those sentences in a separate proceeding. In addition, he and Mr. Muhammad are suspected of killings in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana and Washington State, and he could be charged with murder in those states.

But scores of other inmates who committed murders before they turned 18 might have obtained new sentences had the court ruled for Mr. Malvo.

In 2018, a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled for Mr. Malvo, saying he was entitled to a new sentencing hearing.

“To be clear,” Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote for the panel, “the crimes committed by Malvo and John Muhammad were the most heinous, random acts of premeditated violence conceivable, destroying lives and families and terrorizing the entire Washington, D.C., metropolitan area for over six weeks, instilling mortal fear daily in the citizens of that community.”

“But Malvo was 17 years old when he committed the murders, and he now has the retroactive benefit of new constitutional rules that treat juveniles differently for sentencing,” Judge Niemeyer added.

“We make this ruling not with any satisfaction but to sustain the law,” the judge concluded. “As for Malvo, who knows but God how he will bear the future.”

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