My Niece Was Murdered in the D.C. Sniper Shootings—But I Support Resentencing for the Teenager Who Killed Her | Opinion

In February 2002, my niece Keenya and her infant daughter were living with me in my home in Tacoma, Washington. I left on the morning of Saturday the 16th and said I would be back in an hour, not knowing it was the last time I would ever see Keenya alive. A few hours later, a boy knocked on the door and she opened it for him. The boy, 16-year-old , shot her point blank in the face and killed her. Her body was discovered by my then 14-year-old daughter, and our family was changed forever.

Keenya was killed by Malvo at the direction of his much older accomplice, John Allen Muhammad—the pair would later go on a shooting spree in the DC area that left ten dead. I worked as Muhammad's accountant for a period of time. Because of that connection to him and my relationship with his former wife Mildred Muhammad's child custody hearing that I attended, I eventually realized I was the intended target in the shooting.

After the killings in DC, Muhammad was sentenced to death and has since been executed. Malvo's jury was asked to choose between death and life without parole for Malvo's crimes, and chose to sentence him to life without parole.

Since Malvo's sentencing, the Supreme Court has decided that juveniles may be sentenced to life without parole only in rare cases. As the Supreme Court explained, juveniles are different from adults. They do not fully understand risk and consequences. They are easily influenced by adults or peers, and are less capable of coping with trauma and abuse they may experience. But they are also more likely than adults to change and rehabilitate themselves. Courts must take those qualities into account and determine that a juvenile truly cannot be redeemed before sentencing him or her to die in prison.

Malvo's case is headed to the Supreme Court this fall. The Justices will decide whether he should receive a new sentencing proceeding so that a Virginia court may consider whether life without parole is the appropriate sentence in light of his age and immaturity at the time of the crimes.

I believe that Malvo should be resentenced—not released, but given the chance to make a case for a sentence that would allow him, at some point during his life, to demonstrate whether he has changed. I say this as someone who has suffered unimaginably at Malvo's hands. It's one thing to have a loved one killed, but it is quite another when you are the one intended to receive the bullet. In addition to the loss of my beloved niece, our family had to care for her suddenly motherless baby, and the strain on family relationships from the shooting caused my shattering marriage to crumble. While living in an extreme state of mourning, I also suffered survivor's guilt. There were times when this combination of painful factors made me feel as if I no longer wanted to be alive myself.

Despite my heartbreak, I recognize that Malvo was acting under the influence of a predator who trained him to kill me. Muhammad deliberately selected a vulnerable teenager—15 years old when they met—to manipulate, abuse, and eventually make his accomplice. Children are a product of their environment: You learn what you live, and Malvo lived a very traumatizing reality. He was an often neglected boy who experienced extreme loneliness and isolation in his community, making him a prime subject for grooming by a predator like Muhammad. I believe Malvo's life was over the day he met John Muhammad.

None of that excuses Malvo's horrific crimes. But a court should take it into account in determining whether Malvo should be sentenced to die in prison. My pain and the pain of my family should not be used to justify denying Lee Boyd Malvo what he constitutionally deserves.

Isa Farrington Nichols is a national speaker on trauma reconciliation and the author of acclaimed books Genesis: The Bullet Was Meant For Me DC Sniper Story Untold, and RESTORE: Truth and Reconciliation of Traumatic Experiences. Ms. Nichols has joined other victims and victim family members on an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Mr. Malvo.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​