By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 when he took part in the deadly 2002 “D.C. Sniper” shooting spree in the Washington area, will get a chance to seek parole in Virginia following a change in state law enacted on Monday, preempting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the matter.
The change, signed by Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, allows people like Malvo, now 35, who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for offenses committed before age 18 to ask for release after 20 years.
He also received a sentence of life in prison without parole in Maryland, which is not affected by the Virginia law.
Malvo, who is incarcerated in a supermax state prison in Virginia’s Wise County, and an older accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, were convicted in the shootings in which 10 people were killed. Muhammad was sentenced to death and executed in a Virginia state prison in 2009 at age 48.
Virginia had appealed after a lower court ruled that Malvo should be resentenced in light of Supreme Court precedent that mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court on Oct. 16 heard arguments in the case and was due to issue a ruling by the end of June.
Lawyers on both sides sent a letter to the court asking for the case to be dismissed after Northam signed the legislation.
The shootings occurred over three weeks in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, causing panic in the U.S. capital region.
Malvo received four life sentences in Virginia, where he was convicted of two murders and later entered a separate guilty plea to avoid the death penalty.
The Supreme Court will need a future case in order to decide the legal question of whether inmates in similar situations who commit crimes as minors can receive new sentencing hearings to allow judges to consider whether their youth at the time of the offense merits leniency.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)