WASHINGTON - A new Virginia law ending life-without-parole sentences for juveniles will make a notorious mass murderer who terrorized the nation's capital region nearly two decades ago eligible for parole, likely ending his legal challenge at the Supreme Court.
Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 in 2002 when he and an older man killed 10 people over three weeks in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, agreed Monday to drop his effort to win a new sentence. That's because the Virginia law will give him a shot at parole after serving 20 years.
Malvo's adult partner in the crime spree, John Allen Muhammad, was executed in 2009, but Malvo was sentenced to life without parole because of his youth.
Now 34, Malvo was unlikely to benefit from any high court ruling because he faces 10 life sentences over three jurisdictions. His challenge only involved the killings committed in Virginia. About 12 Virginia prisoners who committed crimes as juveniles are affected by the new law.
Since 2002, the Supreme Court has barred not only the death penalty for juvenile offenders but mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all but the most incorrigible. In 2016, it made the ruling on life sentences retroactive, forcing states to offer new hearings to more than 2,000 prisoners.
Virginia had refused to reconsider Malvo's case, arguing that the high court's rulings only apply to mandatory sentences. His attorneys nonetheless claimed those rulings require judges to decide if defendants are incorrigible or capable of reform, and that Virginia denied Malvo that opportunity.
During oral argument in October, conservatives such as Associate Justice Samuel Alito said the later rulings merely required that juveniles' sentences be discretionary, not mandatory. Liberals such as Associate Justice Elena Kagan said minors sentenced to life in prison must be found to be "irretrievably corrupt."
Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who grew up and practiced law in the D.C. area, appeared stuck in the middle: agreeing that juveniles' disposition must be considered, but not convinced that judges with discretion must spell that out.
Two lower federal courts previously agreed that Malvo should be resentenced because of the subsequent Supreme Court decisions. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4 Circuit asked the trial court to decide if his crimes reflect "permanent incorrigibility" or "the transient immaturity of youth."
If the Supreme Court had ruled in Malvo's favor, it would not have represented a get-out-of-jail card for him, since he also received life without parole in Maryland for six murders committed there. The change in Virginia law similarly doesn't relieve him of convictions elsewhere.
His lawyer, Danielle Spinelli, said during oral argument: "We are nowhere near any prospect of being released."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lee Boyd Malvo eligible for parole; Supreme Court case moot