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.
"And that's, that's … that's when it really hurt. … I've stolen something from them," he said emphatically. "I've stolen someone. … They can't get that back … and for me … that's when the process started … and from there I started to think, think about all the other victims … but it started with the children."
Two weeks ago, at the request of Malvo and Cheryll Witz, the daughter of sniper victim Jerry Taylor, an ABC News producer who received a call from Malvo in prison conferenced him in with Witz on her cell phone. A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections has since said that the conference call was a violation of prison policy. An ABC News spokesman has said the network was not aware of the policy at the time the call took place.
Witz told ABC News that she was "in shock" to actually get the call from Malvo. "He said he had tried to write me, but he did not know where to begin. He was very light-spoken and there were a lot of pauses. He said he was sorry for what he had done and he said the Lee Malvo then and the Lee Malvo now are two different people."
Taylor was shot by a sniper in Tucson, Ariz., in March 2002, seven months before the Washington crime spree that took 10 lives and wounded three in October 2002.
When Malvo and Muhammed were finally caught, Witz said she suspected they had killed her father, who was fatally shot as he chipped golf balls on a course in Arizona.
Malvo had been found with an Arizona credit card when he was caught and Witz said her father had been missing a credit card when his body was discovered. She went to the authorities, but they dismissed her theories, telling her they had another suspect.
So in June 2006, on Father's Day, she wrote to Malvo in prison, asking him to confess to her father's murder.
Malvo agreed through his lawyer to confess after his trials were complete. He had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and couldn't have reasonably expected any leniency or reward for his apologies or his confession. Prosecutors in Arizona now consider the case closed and have no plans to prosecute Muhammad or Malvo.
Malvo says he spent about a year with Muhammed, most of it in preparation for a mass-scale terrorism campaign, much larger than the one they carried out, that Malvo said included plans to pick off groups of children exiting school buses with sniper rifles and a series of mass explosions.
He says he couldn't help himself when he was around Muhammed.
"This man became my world," he said in June. "See, it's like abused women. People say they can't understand why they can't leave the relationship. It's because she becomes completely dependent on this fool. When I was rebuked, I blamed myself completely for it. I became completely, completely, completely dependent on him. Completely. There was no Lee left. … I just gave it up. It wasn't hard. I already hated myself. He just knew what to say to channel all that anger."
Malvo seems to have found some sympathy in Witz, who said after their conversation that she was trying to forgive him.
"I want to believe that he is truly sorry,'' she said. "I want to know that he is going to think about this every day. … But I want to find closure in my own heart."
Malvo also spoke to ABC News after the phone call with Witz.
Breathing heavily, he said with a sigh, "I actually don't feel any better. I actually feel worse."
"I killed her father," he said. "I don't think I will sleep tonight."