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 almost 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.
UPDATE, 3:30 p.m.:/strong> Psychiatrist Neil Blumberg, given a release by Malvo to discuss their 50 hours of jail house interviews, spoke about them for the first time to A&E. And then for the second time to The Crime Scene.
Blumberg said A&E’s original intent was to focus on the surviving victims of the sniper shootings, and that show is set to air Aug. 9 on the BIO Channel. But after Malvo released Blumberg to talk about him, Blumberg spilled the beans about Malvo’s claims that there were three co-conspirators, 42 total shootings and other new details.
Thus, a new episode focusing on Malvo was born.
What wasn’t made clear in the show Thursday night was that all of Blumberg’s information came only from 2003, when he was meeting with Malvo at the request of defense lawyers. He said it was only after Malvo had his psychological breakthrough with Carmeta Albarus that he truly opened up, and disclosed the existence of other participants and previously unknown shootings.
“I found him, at that point, to be quite credible,” Blumberg said Friday.
In 2003, facing a death penalty trial in Virginia, it wasn’t in Malvo’s self-interest to reveal other crimes, Blumberg noted, and he wasn’t trying to buff his bad-guy image or promote an A&E documentary. He said Malvo felt that he was a fool, had been used by Muhammad, felt terrible about what happened. “Talking about co-conspirators didn’t help his case,” Blumberg said.
Detectives who worked the case, both in Virginia and Maryland, said there was no evidence of any other conspirators. Blumberg said Malvo was quite specific about them, including his claim that he executed two of them. When Shatner asked Malvo about that, Malvo said he didn’t do the executing, Muhammad did. And only one conspirator. Either way, Blumberg believes that at least one co-conspirator is still out there.
The investigators also said that after the snipers were arrested in October 2002, police departments around the country presented unsolved cases to them that might be sniper-related. Only a few checked out, not 42. But Blumberg said Malvo told him that he and Muhammad often robbed and killed drug dealers, whose deaths no one may have ever suspected were linked to the snipers.
Blumberg saw Malvo again in 2006, before his testimony in Muhammad’s trial, but only to check him out and calm him down before his face-to-face showdown with his mentor. By then, Malvo had revealed the information to Montgomery County prosecutors, who didn’t use it at trial, but did spread it to police in the relevant areas. It was only this year that police in Hammond, La., visited Malvo in prison and confirmed his role in the shooting of a man there.
He said Malvo never mentioned anything about contract killings, or about getting guns from white supremacists in the desert, a claim made in the show which detectives say is either wildly untrue, or unrelated to the guns used in the shootings. But Blumberg believed what Malvo said, and “the bottom line is, there were likely many more shootings” than authorities now know.
July 30, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories: Crime History , D.C. Sniper , From the Post , The Region , Tom Jackman
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