Prosecutors Begin Death Bid for Juvenile Malvo

Proseuctors in the case of the accused snipers begin their bid for the death penalty against juvenile suspect John Lee Malvo today in a Virginia courtroom.

Today's hearing is signficant for the defense in that it will be their first opportunity to learn some of the evidence the State has against their client--it is expected that about two dozen witnesses will testify for the prosecution, including ballistic experts, and officers and agents who handled various pieces of evidence. It will also give the defense a chance to cross-examine the witnesses, test their memories, and commit them on record to a version of events. Should they testify differently at a later hearing, they could be impeached by the testimony they give today.

From a factual standpoint, "the prosecutors will try to tie Malvo to an Oct. 9 slaying at a Prince William County gas station, as well as the Oct. 14 shooting of FBI analyst Linda Franklin in Seven Corners, to meet the provisions of one element of Virginia's death penalty law."

The hearing itself is fairly routine. The Judge has to decide if there is probable cause to believe Malvo committed the shooting with which he is charged, and if so, he will order Malvo transferred to adult court. Juvenile courts in Virginia cannot hear murder cases involving a defendant older than 14. Probable cause is a very low standard--kind of like, are there reasonable grounds to believe Malvo committed the crimes?

Virginia is carefully laying the groundwork for it's bid for the death penalty against Malvo. They are crafting arguments under two different provisions of the capital murder statute. The first argument is that Malvo engaged in more than one killing in a three year period. For this theory to succeed, prosecutors have to show that Malvo was the triggerman in each of the named killings. Their second argument falls under Virginia's new and untested terrorism law, which requires the prosecution to prove that the killings were intended to terrorize the community at large. To support this theory, prosecutors are expected to introduce the note Malvo allegedly wrote saying "Your children are not safe anywhere at any time," and a tarot card that was left at the scene of another one of the murders.

Malvo is charged with the killing of Linda Franklin in Fairfax County. John Muhammed is charged with the killing of Dean Meyers in Prince William County. They are not being tried together.

Update on the hearing: Police say Malvo contacted them four times to demand $10 million to stop the killings. Fingerprints on weapons in four shootings linked to Malvo.

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