'He Said He Was Sorry'

Cheryll Witz nearly collapsed after her cell phone rang two weeks ago while she shopped in a Costco in Arizona.

Her father's killer was calling from prison to apologize.

It was Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger of two snipers who terrorized the nation five years ago this week.

"I was in shock," she told ABC News of the private conversation. "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."


Witz said it was "incredible to hear those words, 'I am sorry.' I never imagined I would hear those words."

At the request of Malvo and Witz, an ABC News producer who received a series of phone calls from Malvo in prison, conferenced the two together. 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.

The journey toward that moment in the Costco is an extraordinary one, but Witz says she's begun an entirely new journey — the journey to forgive her father's murderer.

Her father, Jerry Taylor, was shot by a sniper in Tucson, Ariz., in March 2002, seven months before the Washington, D.C., crime spree that took 10 lives and wounded three in October 2002.

When Malvo and John Allen Muhammed were finally caught, Witz said she suspected they had killed her father, who was shot as he chipped golf balls on a course.

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 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.

The letter was returned because she had included a newspaper clipping about her parents, which the prison considered contraband. The letter was returned unopened. Witz then faxed a copy of the letter to Malvo's attorney, who got the missive to his client.

"In my first letter to him, asking him to confess, I said, 'If you are any type of man, you will come forward. My family and I need to know. My mother has passed away and she had wanted to know.' But I was very surprised when he did confess."

"His attorney told me that when Malvo got the letter, it was during his many trials, but Malvo said that he would confess as soon as those trials were over," Witz told ABC News.

Malvo, who had already been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the Washington murders, confessed to Tucson police in October of last year.

But there were still mysterious aspects to the confession that Witz said have led to even more questions. Malvo said to local police that he and Muhammed had pictures of Taylor when they arrived in Arizona and that the shooting was a contract killing.

"I wanted to ask him questions who sent the pictures he said he had of my father? Was he paid? Why did he pick my dad? My dad never had an enemy. … I didn't know what to believe," she said.

Tucson police also question these aspects of the apparent killing, but now consider the case closed and no prosecution is planned.

Malvo's attorney from his first trial, Craig Cooley, told The Associated Press that Malvo only knew what Muhammed told him and was therefore not the best source of true information about the murder.

But it appears clear that the pair did kill Taylor. And somehow, Witz said, knowing what happened has helped her down the road to healing. And potentially forgiveness.

"I want to have forgiveness in my heart," she said. "I want to believe that he is truly sorry. I want to know that he is going to think about this every day. I will probably never find out how this happened. But I want to find closure in my own heart."

"I never wrote to Muhammed," she said. "I am happy to carry hatred in my heart for him. I could care less if he rotted."

Witz said she is still hoping for a letter from Malvo and may at some point seek to visit him in prison.

"My family did not want me to pursue this," she said. "They would be happy not knowing. But that is not me. I want to let go, but I need some answers to do that."

She said that as a mother, she has begun to feel a strange and sometimes uncomfortable bit of tenderness toward Malvo.

"I think Malvo is still a child in many ways," Witz said. "I think he needs to forgive himself before his justice day."

She said that more than five years later, she is still very pained at the thought of how her father died.

Her pursuit of Malvo, the dramatic phone call and her work toward forgiving the young man, it seems, are as much about being a daughter as they are about being a mother.

"I never want my father to be forgotten," she said.