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FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2003 file photo, sniper shooting suspect John Lee Malvo is escorted from court after his preliminary hearing in Fairfax, Va. Convicted D.C. sniper Malvo said in a newspaper interview published Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, that the devastated reaction of a victim’s husband made him feel like “the worst piece of scum.” Malvo expresses remorse in the interview with The Washington Post and urged the families of victims to try and forget about him and his partner John Allen Muhammad so they can move on. Tuesday, Oct. 2, marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the deadly spree in the Washington area carried by Malvo and Muhammad. The pair has been linked to 27 shootings across the country, including 10 fatal attacks in the Washington area. (AP Photo/ Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Ten Years After Killing Spree, Remorseful Malvo Sees Young Self as ‘Monster’
First Published Sep 30 2012 04:43 pm • Last Updated Sep 30 2012 04:43 pm

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."

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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 in Seven Corners 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, defiant Malvo told investigators he fired the bullet that killed Franklin. He laughed and pointed to his head to show where the bullet struck. Told about Malvo’s words, one of those investigators said he wouldn’t be surprised if Muhammad fired the fatal shot and thinks Malvo might be coming to grips with what he did.

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 area. They succeeded in terrorizing the region, as death came without warning: in gas stations and parking lots, on benches and lawns. They even shot and wounded a 13-year-old standing in front of a middle school. Sporting events were canceled. People cowered behind tarps as they filled their cars with gas. Parents kept their children home. After the two were caught, they were tied to at least 12 more shootings from Washington state to Alabama, six of them fatal.

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 animation and poise, and with an adult perspective on what he did. He claims to understand the enormity of his actions - the trail of death and loss and pain he left behind - 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."

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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 Saturday. Interrogators "knew that he was covering for Muhammad. He wouldn’t put the gun in Muhammad’s hands in 2002. The spell was starting to wear off at trial, and now that he’s in jail for his entire life he’s probably being more realistic about what Muhammad did and didn’t do. He’s older, and he understands now how impressionable he was."

In three hours of interviews this month, Malvo reflected on the sniper shootings and what led to the deadly spree of crimes that stretched coast to coast. He said he is different now, extricated from Muhammad’s grip, and wiser. He said he has deep regret for everything he did. He added several details to what was known about how he and Muhammad carried out the shootings undetected.

Much of what he said was similar to the narrative his attorneys presented at his 2003 capital murder trial in Franklin’s death. Jurors spared his life, largely because they believed that while he was responsible for the killings, he also was under Muhammad’s control.

Malvo spoke through plexiglass on Sept. 19 in the stark cinder-block visitation room at Red Onion State Prison, a remote supermax facility tucked among Virginia’s Appalachian coal mines, about eight hours from Washington. Prison officials would not allow paper or pens or pencils into the room. 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, Mildred Muhammad, who lived in Prince George’s County, so he could get the children back. And there was talk of taking the children away and starting a new society with the money they were trying to extract from the government, but Malvo said he can’t be sure of Muhammad’s real motives. Malvo also said that in October 2002, he would have done anything Muhammad asked of him.

During the interview, Malvo did not make any fanciful claims - as he did in his only other media contact. In a summer 2010 interview with William Shatner for the A&E Cable network, Malvo claimed that he and Muhammad shot 42 people and they had accomplices along the way. Those assertions have been discounted by authorities.

Malvo was respectful and willing to answer questions from The Post. A slight man with close-cropped hair, Malvo has a broad smile and often uses his hands to express himself, such as when pointing to his temple while explaining how his mind was warped.

He is confined to a small segregation cell 23 hours a day - he gets to exercise in an enclosed pen, take showers, and sometimes do menial jobs on his own during that other hour. He has no physical interaction with other inmates. He has taken a deep interest in yoga and meditation. He writes poetry, draws, and corresponds with people by mail, including one person who maintains a Facebook page for him, under the Facebook moniker Lee B. Malvo. (On the page, Malvo lists his favorite movie as "Titanic" and asks for donations so he can buy commissary items. At the Red Onion interview, he was wearing a new Timex digital watch on his left wrist.)

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" - claims similar to those made at his trial.

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 swooped in and nursed him back to health.

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