WASHINGTON – When Cheryll Witz heard sniper Lee Boyd Malvo’s taped confession that he and John Allen Muhammad killed her father on a Tucson golf course in March 2002, she thought that was as much closure as she’d ever get.
But last month, as she and her best friend shopped at a Costco in Tucson, a television network producer called Witz’s cell phone and told her that someone else on the line wanted to speak to her.
It was Malvo, speaking from Red Onion Correctional Center in Virginia, struggling to fight back tears as he apologized.
“He told me he’s been trying to write me, but didn’t know where to start,” she said, recounting the Sept. 20 three-way conversation arranged by a producer at ABC News. “He said: ‘I just wanted to apologize to you. I am so sorry for what I’ve done.’ “
Witz said that, standing with her friend near a rack of chips, she broke down after hanging up. “I was white as a ghost,” she said. “I’m bawling, crying my eyes out.”
The thought of Malvo, 22, has haunted her since he and Muhammad were named as suspects in the slaying of her father, Jerry Taylor, 60. Authorities believe Taylor was one of a handful of people the snipers shot in the months leading up to the October 2002 shootings that terrorized the Washington area.
Five years ago today, five slayings in a single day stunned residents and made clear that a serial killer, or a team of killers, was working fast and mercilessly. For three weeks, as the snipers killed in broad daylight, residents feared the exposure that came with pumping gas or mowing the lawn. Before it was over, 22 days later, 10 people were dead in the Washington area.
Both snipers have been convicted. Muhammad is on Virginia’s death row, and his young protege, Malvo, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Malvo and Muhammad have long been prime suspects in the Arizona homicide.
Although they were never charged in the slaying, the case was closed after Tucson homicide detectives interviewed Malvo last October. Malvo was granted immunity from prosecution in that state.
Witz said she had been in touch with ABC producer Mary Harris for several months and had expressed her desire to speak to Malvo. Witz said she did not believe her request would be granted – until her phone rang two weeks ago.
“I have Lee on the phone,” Witz said Harris told her. “Would you like to talk to him?”
Malvo spoke softly and sounded choked-up, Witz said. “He said the Lee that did that is not the same Lee now,” she said.
Witz had a laundry list of questions – details that still keep her awake at night. Malvo answered some, and the two agreed to correspond later.