He sounds so normal sometimes, so rational, you can almost forget you're talking to a serial killer.
In a wide-ranging series of phone calls to ABC News' Law & Justice Unit, convicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo described the sheer torment of coming to terms with the destruction he and John Allen Muhammed wrought during their killing spree five years ago in the Washington area.
Malvo — who once boasted and laughed about taking "head shots" when his victims entered "the killing zone" — says today he was just a pawn in the harrowing, three-week explosion of domestic terrorism in October 2002 that panicked a shaken nation still reeling from the attacks of Sept. 11.
During the conversations with ABC News, Malvo also apologized to the daughter of one of his victims, who was killed in Arizona, seven months before the shooting spree began in earnest. He told ABC that the conversation was an attempt to salvage some shred of his humanity.
"Yes, yes I'm a murderer," he told ABC News earlier this month. "Yes, I've killed. Yes, I've taken life. Yes, I'm in prison, Yes, yeah I deserve to be. But," he emphasized, "when I get up tomorrow morning I can choose what to do with my time."
"We can always change. We can always grow, and that's what gives me hope. Yes, I am a murderer, OK? … But if we don't — see, yes I've killed, but if nothing is learned, nothing is gained from this, than what is, what is the entire purpose?"
"I'm not trying to justify what I've done," he said. "What I've done cannot be justified. … That is, that is an immutable fact. But at the same time, if it [is] possible for us to learn, and if we can make some amends from this, if others can learn from my mistakes and not make the same mistake, then some good has come out of my experience. … I'm not going to stay in the gutter, and just, you know, 'squalor, self pity, woe is me.' I've done enough of that."
By turns rambling, repentant, defensive and hopeful, Malvo spent hours over the course of five months on the phone with ABC News from the Red Onion State Prison in Virginia. He described his daily routine of exercise, journal writing and reading Ralph Waldo Emerson and the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and books on forgiveness and tai chi.
He said he'd wandered aimlessly through the early years of his life, abandoned by his parents and eventually "programmed" by Muhammed and manipulated into murder. He talked about thoughts of suicide and panic attacks and "bawling" in his cell around the clock for two weeks after his arrest.
But in the end, he seemed eager and insistent that he is trying to accept his murderous past and simply slake his dying thirst for some measure of forgiveness.
And he said he has the bleak endlessness of a life sentence to thank for that.
"In here, there are no distractions," he said in April. "It's gray and white. … That's it. There's no green. There's no colors. It's frosted glass. There's you in this cell. You have no escape. You have no distractions. … I [had] never stopped to confront all the different conflicting feelings I have."
When he finally did, he said, "it just tore me apart."
It was months after his 2002 arrest when, he said he started to ponder the fate of the children of his victims.