CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Lee Boyd Malvo was a petty criminal prone to violence long before he met John Allen Muhammad and has recently been plotting his escape from custody, according to two prosecution psychologists who testified Monday at Malvo's trial on capital murder charges.
By introducing a series of recent letters from Malvo to a fellow inmate, prosecutors seemed to suggest that he remained a threat. In the three letters to another inmate at the Fairfax County jail, where Malvo has been held, he indicated that he was biding his time until he could commit a violent act or escape.
"Get them to think you're somebody you're not," Malvo advised the other inmate. "My strategy works for me because my enemy does not know me."
"I play the stupid fool," Malvo added. "Everybody underestimates me."
Before, during and after last fall's sniper shootings, the two prosecution experts said, Malvo voluntarily participated in criminal conduct though he knew it was wrong.
"This is a person who is fully conscious, cognizant, deliberating, purposeful," said Stanton E. Samenow, one of the psychologists. "Mr. Malvo knew exactly what he was doing."
The portrait of Malvo concluded the main phase of the trial, which started on Nov. 10. It was part of a single day of rebuttal testimony from the prosecution, and it followed a week of mental health experts for the defense.
The defense experts said that Malvo, 18, was brainwashed by Muhammad, 42, into participating in the shootings. Muhammad was convicted of murder and sentenced to death last month.
Closing arguments in Malvo's trial are likely to be presented today. If Malvo is convicted, the trial will enter a separate sentencing phase.
The prosecution experts described a bright, cunning and ruthless young man. Samenow, who interviewed Malvo for 34 hours over eight days last month, quoted a series of statements from Malvo. They were terse, combative and often studded with profanity.
"I'm willing to question," Malvo said, according to Samenow. "I don't take anything at face value. I'm not impressionable. I'm not weak-minded."
Samenow dismissed the notion that Malvo's actions were in any sense involuntary.
"He made it clear," Samenow said, "that he was a very, very willful individual."
Malvo rested his chin on his hand, looking glum, as Samenow spoke.
Evan S. Nelson, another prosecution psychologist, said that Muhammad was an important influence on Malvo. But he said the relationship was better described as idol worship than brainwashing.
"It was a consensual relationship that went forward to some very bad ends," Nelson said.
Both experts said Malvo remained capable of telling right from wrong. The defense must prove the opposite to prevail on its insanity defense.