What to Know
- Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad were responsible for a series of shootings that killed 10 people and seriously wounded six others
- Malvo is challenging life sentences imposed by Virginia, claiming the sentences were unconstitutional because he was a juvenile
- Other convicted juvenile offenders will be affected by the outcome of this case
Liberal and conservative justices seemed split on whether to grant a new sentencing hearing to Lee Boyd Malvo, who as a teenager was one of two snipers who terrorized the Washington, D.C. area, killing 10 people.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether Malvo was wrongly sentenced in Virginia to life without parole.
Malvo was 17 at the time of the 2002 killings. His attorneys say he deserves a new hearing because of recent Supreme Court rulings barring mandatory life sentences for juveniles.
Virginia argues Malvo's life sentence was not mandatory because the judge theoretically had discretion to suspend part of Malvo's sentence after a jury recommended life without parole.
He is also serving six life-without-parole terms in Maryland.
The justices' eventual ruling probably will mean less for him than for a dozen other inmates who were sentenced to life without parole for murders they committed as teens.
The case could be an opportunity for the Supreme Court, which has recently become more conservative, to put the brakes on what has been a gradual move toward more leniency for juvenile offenders.
In 2005, the court eliminated the death penalty for offenders who were under 18 when they committed crimes. Then, in 2012, the justices said teenage killers couldn't automatically get life sentences with no chance of parole, explaining that punishment should be rare for juveniles. Four years later, the court made the decision retroactive, giving additional prisoners the hope for freedom.
Having Malvo as the face of the issue has some advocates worried because his crimes make him unlikely to elicit sympathy from the justices.
Malvo was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad went on their sniper spree, killing 10 people in the Washington area. They picked off victims going about their daily business: shopping, getting gas and mowing the lawn. Muhammad, who was 41 at the time of the shootings, was sentenced to death and executed in 2009.