Taken by law enforcement near a Sunoco gas station in Prince William County, Va., the crime scene of one of the D.C. sniper attacks, 2002. (Evidence from the DC Sniper Task Force Collection, courtesy of Prince William County Police Department, National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, D.C.)

PERSPECTIVE: Life Sentence for Beltway Sniper Is Not an ‘Injustice’

In the Chicago Tribune this week, columnist Dahleen Glanton questions “the injustice of imposing a sentence of life without parole on someone as young as 17” while acknowledging Lee Boyd Malvo did “awful things… as a teenager.” Having lived through the 23 days of terror on the front lines of the investigation as detailed in my book, In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers, which is the inside story of how the investigation was conducted and two of the most ruthless killers in American history were tracked down, I feel more than qualified to answer that question.

I understand where the writer is coming from, but it is a piece written by somebody who most likely has rarely left the confines of a nice office in Chicago and certainly has no clue how the real public back here in our area felt during the sniper case. Had the writer been a part of those horrific days and weeks in and around Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, I do not believe she would come off as sympathetic to Malvo, the sole remaining killer who, along with John Allen Muhammad, senselessly and without remorse took the lives of 10 random citizens and shot four more who somehow managed to survive their grievous wounds.

It is easy for the author to argue that a 17-year-old is a victim of social injustice, based on the perceived belief that Malvo was completely under the influence of John and was only pulling the trigger under the influence of his mentor. Who wants to truly believe that a person under the age of 18 can be so evil as to be responsible for the heinous acts he committed? I get that; I really do. It is not an easy thing to come to grips with the fact that there are people out there under the age of 18 who do not respect life and have no problem taking it. One can argue that Lee Malvo was completely under the influence of John Muhammad. At least that the politically correct spin that Malvo tried to place on his actions and what, fundamentally, maybe we all want to believe.

I must ask a question in return. Is it a social injustice to take a 17-year-old off the streets for the remainder of his natural life who had the ability, arrogance, and cold-bloodedness to look down the barrel of a rifle thru optic sights from a concealed position, place the red dot on the chest of a living, breathing human being who has a family, then pull the trigger — thus ending that human being’s life and destroying everything that they are, everything that they ever would be, and robbing their loved ones of a lifetime of influence, love, understanding, companionship, joys and heartaches that go along with a life well lived? All that human being did was have the audacity to find themselves on the wrong end of the barrel while simply going about daily life. What did those victims ever do to Lee Malvo? Did they deserve to die for any injustices that either may have or may not have been done to Lee Malvo? This was not an act committed in the moment of passion, or a momentary stupid accident committed by a kid who should have known better and made a terrible, horrible mistake. Malvo even testified against Muhammad that their plot included a domestic terror element, with a goal to “set up a camp to train children how to terrorize cities.” These were the acts of a heartless, cold-blooded killer who knew what he was doing and repeated that act 14 times in the DMV. In their full crime spree, the death toll was 17.

However, I am willing to bet the writer has never had to look into the crushed faces of the loved ones who had a family member, co-worker or friend gunned down in such a senseless act of pure evil. The writer has never seen the sheer terror in the faces of citizens just trying to put gas in their cars or the faces of terror-stricken parents shielding their children using their own bodies while they rushed their kids from cars pulled up onto sidewalks as close to the school doors as they could physically get in fear their child would be gunned down for no reason other than pure bad luck. That writer never faced a sociopath armed with a high-powered rifle that would penetrate our bulletproof vests like a knife through hot butter, knowing that you are outgunned, and knowing that the only thing between them killing again and putting a stop to their rampage was you and a couple of other troopers who understood it is their duty, responsibility and obligation to not let them kill again and be willing to lay their lives down if necessary in order to prevent another killing. All while knowing we had wives, husbands, sons, and daughters at home waiting for us to hopefully come home still wearing our shields and not carried home on top of it.

That writer has never had to make a split-second decision on life or death in order to protect the public we are sworn and dedicated to protect only to become scrutinized by a polarized media and public that, properly so, questions law enforcement’s training and decision-making abilities. That writer has never had to stand and protect that thin blue line that is the difference between this great country and a third-world state where the streets are permitted to be ruled by chaos. That writer has never looked into the soulless eyes of a stone-cold killer who, if given the chance, would have killed me and every trooper in that rest area at the point of arrest and not have thought twice about it. The writer never faced a killer who, with only one bullet left for that rifle, would have damn well used that bullet to kill a child at Myersville Elementary School the next morning before disappearing into the masses only to move on, resupply ammo and begin killing again.

Yes, it is easy for that writer from the safety of an office to beg for forgiveness for a 17-year-old killer whose DNA was the only DNA ever found on the rifle. Malvo was the trigger man who knew what he was doing, and has no regard for human life and never will. There is no amount of time behind bars that will be enough to punish him for what he has done and the crushed lives of those left behind — and the universal loss of that sense of safety and security during those 23 days in October 2002. None of us will ever be the same without wondering if there is another Lee Malvo out there waiting for the chance to take another kill shot. Should life without the possibility of parole be a standard penalty for somebody under the age of 18? No, I do not believe it should be. However, in this specific case, that sentence is the only sentence appropriate for a stone-cold killer who must never be permitted to walk the streets again. Malvo forfeited that right the moment he looked down the barrel and pulled the trigger, hidden in a concealed position like the true coward he is.

Read David Reichenbaugh’s Homeland Security Today series on the how the Beltway Snipers were tracked and caught: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

David Reichenbaugh's passion for law enforcement started at a very early age which led him to seek a degree in criminal justice. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of North Western University Traffic Institute School of Police Staff and Command. David retired after 23 years service with the Maryland State Police as a Lieutenant and Barrack Commander in Cumberland Maryland. David's career started as a road Trooper and continued on as a criminal investigator, undercover narcotics investigator, major violators supervisor, homicide and high profile case investigator, and assisted in the development of the intelligence unit of the MSP post 9/11. He is the author of "In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers."

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