Malvo describes his younger self as 'a monster'

Josh White / The Washington Post /

WASHINGTON — Lee Boyd Malvo said he remembers each of the sniper shootings in detail. But one moment — one image — stands out among the carnage of that terrifying time 10 years ago: “Mr. Franklin’s eyes.”

Malvo remembers being in the blue Chevrolet Caprice, in which police found binoculars and walkie-talkies. He scanned the area to make sure John Allen Muhammad had a clean shot. He gave the “go” order and looked across Route 50 at the target. Muhammad, hidden on a hill above, pulled the trigger. A bullet screamed across the highway, instantly killing Linda Franklin, who just happened to be going about her business at the Home Depot at precisely the wrong time.

But mostly he remembers Ted Franklin’s eyes — the devastation, the shock, the sadness. “They are penetrating,” Malvo said in a rare media interview from prison. “It is the worst sort of pain I have ever seen in my life. His eyes. ... Words do not possess the depth in which to fully convey that emotion and what I felt when I saw it.

“... You feel like the worst piece of scum on the planet.”

Malvo’s attitude provides a sharp contrast to his posture 10 years ago. Shortly after his arrest, a boastful Malvo told investigators he fired the bullet that killed Franklin. He laughed and pointed to his head to show where the bullet struck.

It has been 10 years since Malvo and Muhammad went on one of the most notorious killing sprees in the nation’s history. For 23 days in October 2002, the pair ambushed 13 unsuspecting strangers, killing 10 of them, in the Washington, D.C., area.

Muhammad is gone — executed in 2009 for his crimes. Malvo, the scrawny teenager, the cold-blooded accomplice, is now 27.

His killer stare seems to have softened. He speaks with an adult perspective on what he did. He claims to understand the enormity of his actions and believes that but for Muhammad, he might have accomplished something in life.

“I was a monster,” Malvo said. “If you look up the definition, that’s what a monster is. I was a ghoul. I was a thief. I stole people’s lives. I did someone else’s bidding just because they said so. ... There is no rhyme or reason or sense.”

Retired FBI agent Brad Garrett, who helped question Malvo in 2002, said he’s not surprised by what Malvo is saying in 2012. “When we interviewed him, our belief was that he was under the spell of Muhammad and that would wear off as time went on,” Garrett said last week.

In three hours of interviews in September, Malvo reflected on the sniper shootings and what led to the deadly spree of crimes. He said he is different now, extricated from Muhammad’s grip, and wiser. He said he has deep regret for everything he did.

Malvo spoke through plexiglass Sept. 19 in the stark cinder-block visitation room at Red Onion State Prison, a remote supermax facility about eight hours from Washington. Malvo then spoke the next day by telephone in four separate, recorded calls.

He said there is no explanation for why he and Muhammad killed so many people, only that he learned of Muhammad’s plans piecemeal. He knows Muhammad snapped when he lost custody of his children and wanted to get back at his ex-wife so he could get the children back. Malvo also said that in October 2002, he would have done anything Muhammad asked of him.

Though at peace with a life behind bars — “I see opportunity everywhere” — Malvo said he has had to work hard to recover from what he calls a total brainwashing at the hands of a “sinister” and “evil” man who manipulated him into an effective “killing machine.”

Malvo grew up in Jamaica and Antigua, and he looks back at the 14-year-old who met Muhammad as if he’s a million miles away. That boy was a vagabond, bouncing from his father to his mother and enduring physical abuse. He was fighting an illness, Malvo said, and Muhammad nursed him back to health. “The groundwork was laid in Antigua because I leaned on him, I trusted him,” Malvo said.

Muhammad was a savior in Malvo’s eyes, someone who could make his dreams come true. An ideal. And Malvo sees that boy now as the perfect rube. “He picked me because he knew he could mold me,” Malvo said at Red Onion. “He knew I could be what he needed me to be. ... He could not have chosen a better child.”