Supreme Court tosses D.C. sniper case after change in Virginia law

Melissa Quinn

Washington — The Supreme Court dismissed a case involving Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the shooters who terrorized the Washington, D.C., region more than 15 years ago, after the state of Virginia changed its law regarding life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders.

The move came after Malvo's lawyers and the state of Virginia notified the court that they agreed to dismiss the case in light of legislation signed by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Monday. Malvo will not seek resentencing on his Virginia convictions but should be eligible for parole in 2022.

While the new Virginia law ends Malvo's Supreme Court case, it's unlikely he'll be released from prison anytime soon. In addition to his four life sentences in Virginia, Malvo also received six life sentences without the possibility of parole for killings in Maryland. 

Supreme Court Sniper Shootings Malvo

This photo provided by the Virginia Department of Corrections shows Lee Boyd Malvo. Virginia Department of Corrections / AP

Under the measure enacted in Virginia, people who were sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed as a juvenile and who have served at least 20 years of their sentence are eligible for parole.

Malvo received four sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2004 for his role in the 2002 killing spree, during which he and John Allen Muhammad shot and killed 10 people in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. Muhammad was convicted of capital murder and executed in 2009.

Nearly a decade after Malvo received his life sentence, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders were unconstitutional. Malvo was 17 when he and Muhammad went on their fatal shooting rampage.

A federal appeals court ruled in 2018 that while Malvo's life-without-parole sentences were legal when they were handed down, he should receive a new sentencing hearing in light of the Supreme Court's 2012 decision.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring appealed to the Supreme Court, and the high court agreed to hear the case last year. The justices heard oral arguments in October. Danielle Spinelli, Malvo's lawyer, said that even if he were eligible for parole, it would not mean he would automatically be released.

"It would mean that he would have the opportunity some time in the future to make the case to the parole board that he has changed," she said. "So we are nowhere near any prospect of being released."

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