Writing for Homeland Security Today author of In Pursuit the Hunt for the Beltway Snipers Pens response to Chicago Tribune column questioning life with no Prole Sentence for Beltway Sniper Lee Malvo

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

March 21, 2019 David Reichenbaugh

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.

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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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Frederick News Post covers retired State Police Lt. David Reichenbaugh's book event at C. Burr Artz Library in Frederick Maryland

Former trooper pens book, gives talk about capturing Beltway snipers

After recently penning a book about his first hand account of heading the Beltway snipers investigation, David Reichenbaugh stopped at C. Burr Artz Public Library Saturday to recount the crucial moments of the “largest manhunt in American law enforcement history.”

Reichenbaugh released “In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers” in October. Saturday’s presentation was organized by Curious Iguana in downtown Frederick.

The Beltway snipers were John Allen Muhammad (41 at the time) and Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the attacks. The two men caused public hysteria and made national news after they carried out a series of shootings throughout Maryland, Washington, D.C and Virginia over a 23-day period in October 2002.

Reichenbaugh was the criminal intelligence operations commander for the Maryland State Police during the investigation and served as commanding officer at the scene when the snipers were captured at a rest area in Myersville.

More than 80 people gathered to hear the author talk about aspects that went wrong in the investigation, the intelligence that was used to further leads and how 23 law enforcement agencies worked together to end the three-week long manhunt.

“This is a story about your trooper,” he said. “Not a story to glorify the killers. It was an honor to serve the Maryland State Police.”

The former trooper also recounted how about 1,000 law enforcement officials came together to stop the snipers, how media outlets helped and hindered the case and why officials wrongly thought, for a majority of the investigation, a white van was being used to execute the shootings.

“People heard the shot,” he said, recalling one of the sniper shootings in Montgomery County. “They looked up, and as luck would have it, there goes a white van very slowly down the street. But if you think about it, you can’t look anywhere where there’s traffic and not see a white van. So that’s how it got started, be on the lookout for a two guys in a white van.”

The talk was slated to last an hour, but lasted almost two after audience members were so compelled with Reichenbaugh’s story they asked inquisitive questions before purchasing the book in the back of the room.

Frederick resident, Christopher Hartman, attended the event to hear the author’s account as he remembers taking extra precautions when traveling through Montgomery County during the sniper shootings.

“I lived through this,” he said. “I was working down in Montgomery County at the time and I actually had one of my friends at work drive me to the train station, I was taking a train from Frederick back and forth, so I wouldn’t be on the streets as a possible target. It really hits me personally.”

He said the most interesting part of the talk was when Reichenbaugh explained how it took up until the very end of the investigation to narrow in on who the snipers were and where they could be captured.

Reichenbaugh wrote the book because he “wanted the story to be accurate.” His favorite part about writing the book, though, was the process.

“It brought back some painful memories while writing it,” he said. “But at the same time it also brought back memories of the men and women that I served with, some of the just the greatest people on earth.

Asked what his most prominent memory of the investigation is, Reichenbaugh said the fear he saw in the faces of every day citizens during those three weeks.

“The fear was genuine from everybody that you ran into,” he said. “I can remember stopping at gas stations and there’d be somebody trying to put gas in their car. I’d stand there and sort of tuck my jacket back so they could see my badge and gun and you could almost see the relief on their face.”

Reichenbaugh is currently working on a second book about a different case, but wouldn’t divulge what it’s about.

The former MSP trooper worked in Frederick County for about 14 years as an undercover narcotics investigator. Today, he serves as a civilian analyst for the United States Capital Police and writes law enforcement articles for Homeland Security Today

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Local Author and former Maryland State Police Lieutenant David Reichenbaugh holds a copy of his book during a talk Saturday at C Burr Artz Public Library about the pursuit and capture of the beltway snipers in 2002

staff photo by Bill Green