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Malvo show mixed drama with baloney

Post staff writer Tom Jackman covered the sniper shootings in 2002 and was the lead writer on Malvo's 2003 murder trial. Here is his take on Malvo's interview Thursday on A&E:

The teenaged serial killer Lee Malvo and the newest star of basic cable, William Shatner, combined to make some compelling TV last night.

Some of it was probably just crazy lies by Malvo, now 25 and behind bars for eight years. But there was also new discussion about several shootings Malvo confirmed in 2006, and a well-crafted unspooling of Malvo’s psychological journey from brainwashed sniper to regretful adult.

First, you have to put aside some of the wackier claims made by Malvo, both to Shatner and years earlier to psychiatrist Neil Blumberg, that he and John Muhammad actually shot 42 people, or “42 more” than the 16 they shot in the D.C. area in September and October 2002. That some of their shootings were “contract killings.” That they were shooting and robbing three to six people a month, and had collected more than $150,000. That there were two or three other conspirators, but they backed out and Malvo had to kill them. Or Muhammad did. Or maybe a Klingon did.

There’s little doubt that Malvo was completely enthralled by Muhammad, his first true father figure, and that Muhammad was spewing all sorts of nonsense. If he tells a 17-year-old kid they’ve got to put a hit on a guy in Arizona, the kid believes it.

But the show does flesh out several more shootings that Malvo told Montgomery County prosecutors about in 2006 – the random slaying of a man mowing grass in Denton, Tex., in May 2002, and the robbery and shooting of a man in Hammond, La., in August 2002. Malvo recently sent an apology letter to that victim, and he also apologized to the family of a man he and Muhammad killed in Tucson, Ariz., in March 2002.

What these shows sometimes do well, and this one did too, was delving into Malvo’s psyche, with the help of Blumberg and especially Carmeta Albarus, a Jamaican social worker hired by the defense in 2003 to crack Malvo’s blind loyalty to Muhammad.

That summer, Albarus found Malvo’s real father in Kingston and videotaped him in all his agony, confusion and shame. THIS was his father, Albarus showed Malvo. She said that helped break Malvo out of Muhammad’s grasp.

Two years after his convictions in Virginia, Malvo wrote to prosecutors in Montgomery County and said he wanted to testify against his “father.” This was also when he confirmed the other shootings, which The Post reported back in 2006.

So then he testified in Muhammad’s Montgomery trial in 2006. The audio-only tapes of their courtroom exchanges – with Muhammad, as his own lawyer, cross-examining his former protégé – are pretty riveting.

The show also revealed two previously undisclosed shootings where no one was hit: one in Tucson and one in Richmond, Va., in which they fired into an occupied restaurant. No date was given.

So the grand total of people shot by Malvo and Muhammad now stands at 26 or 27 (Malvo claimed a homicide in California, but authorities couldn’t find it), but almost certainly not 42 or 69. There was no proof that anyone else was involved.

In his 20-minute conversation with Shatner, Malvo does seem regretful, though his flat affect doesn’t indicate any emotion behind it. He has been apologizing to victims, which most killers don’t do.

As an interviewer, Shatner wasn’t bad. He was well-prepared by his staff, and got Malvo to repeat what he’d already told the producers. He never asked The Big Questions, like “Why couldn’t you see that serial killing was wrong?” or “How could you do this?”

Instead, emerging from the pablum of his dreadful A&E chat show “Shatner’s Raw Nerve,” in which he goes toe-to-toe with heavyweights like Scott Baio and Judge Judy, Shatner used his final seconds of the 20-minute collect call to ask, “Does it give you a sense of hope that there is life after death?”

Huh? “Hope” because he’s confessing to murdering innocent people?

Malvo answers with his strange laugh, interrupted by the recorded warning that the call will end in 10 seconds.

“Hope and dread. A little bit of both. Because everything has to be repaid.”

Click. Call over. Show over.

-- Tom Jackman
(This afternoon, we will hear Blumberg's reaction to the show, and his view of Malvo's credibility after spending 50 hours with him.)

By Tom Jackman  |  July 30, 2010; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  Crime History , D.C. Sniper , From the Post , The Region , Tom Jackman  
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