Virginia executes inmate for killing 2 men during escape

JARRATT, Va. (AP) — A Virginia man who killed a hospital security guard and a sheriff’s deputy after escaping from custody in 2006 was executed Thursday after an unsuccessful campaign to spare the inmate’s life over concerns about his mental health.

William Morva, 35, was pronounced dead at 9:15 p.m. after a lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. It was the first execution carried out in Virginia under a new protocol that makes more of the lethal injection procedure secret.

Morva’s execution came hours after Virginia’s Democratic governor announced that he would not spare Morva’s life despite pressure from mental health advocates, state lawmakers and attorneys who said the man’s crimes were the result of a severe mental illness that made it impossible for him to distinguish between delusions and reality.

FILE – In this Thursday March 29, 2007, file photo, William Morva watches as prospective jury members are interviewed to serve in his attempted robbery trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Christiansburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP, File)

Morva, who was wearing jeans and a blue shirt, said “no” after he was asked whether he had any last words. A few minutes later, he could be heard speaking, but it was not clear what he was saying.

In denying a clemency petition, Gov. Terry McAuliffe concluded Morva received a fair trial. The Democratic governor noted that experts who evaluated the man at the time found he didn’t suffer from any illness that would have prevented him from understanding the consequences of his crimes. He also said prison staff members who monitored Morva for the past nine years never reported any evidence of a severe mental illness or delusional disorder.

“I personally oppose the death penalty; however, I took an oath to uphold the laws of this Commonwealth regardless of my personal views of those laws, as long as they are being fairly and justly applied,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

Morva was awaiting trial on attempted robbery charges in 2005 when he was taken to the hospital to treat an injury. There, he attacked a sheriff’s deputy with a metal toilet paper holder, stole the deputy’s gun, and shot an unarmed security guard, Derrick McFarland, in the face before fleeing. A day later, Morva killed another sheriff’s deputy with a bullet to the back of the head. The deputy, Eric Sutphin, had been searching for Morva near Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus when he was shot.

Experts who examined Morva for his trial said he suffered from personality disorders that resulted in “odd beliefs.”

After his trial, a psychiatrist diagnosed him with delusional disorder, a more severe mental illness akin to schizophrenia that made him falsely believe, among other things, that he has life-threatening gastrointestinal issues and that a former presidential administration conspired with police to imprison him, his attorneys said.

His lawyers argued that Morva escaped and killed the men because he was under the delusion that he was going to die in jail.

Relatives described Morva as a happy child who began to deteriorate mentally as a teen. In the years before the killings, Morva regularly slept in the woods and was known around Blacksburg as “Crazy Will” and “Barefoot Will” for his tendency not to wear shoes, even in winter. He was banned from Virginia Tech’s campus after police found him half naked on a bathroom floor.

Morva was the first inmate executed in Virginia since officials made changes to the state’s protocol that have drawn fire from attorneys and transparency advocates. Those changes came after attorneys raised concerns in January about how long it took to place an IV line during the execution of convicted killer Ricky Gray.

Execution witnesses used to be able to watch inmates walk into the chamber and be strapped down. A curtain would then be closed so the public could not see the placement of the IV and heart monitors. After the curtain was reopened, inmates would be asked whether they have any final words before the chemicals started to flow.

In Morva’s execution, the curtain was closed when the witnesses entered the chamber and was not opened until he was strapped to the gurney and the IV lines were in place. Virginia used a three drug mixture, including midazolam and potassium chloride that it obtained from a compounding pharmacy whose identify remains secret under state law.

Morva’s lethal injection began about 9 p.m. after the warden read him the court order of his execution. Shortly after the drugs began flowing, his stomach moved up and down quickly several times before he became motionless.

Morva is the third inmate to be executed since McAuliffe took office in 2014. In April, McAuliffe granted clemency to Ivan Teleguz, saying jurors in the murder-for-hire case were given false information that may have swayed sentencing.

Among those who had urged McAuliffe to spare Morva’s life were the daughter of the slain sheriff’s deputy, two United Nations human rights experts, and representatives from the Hungarian Embassy. Morva’s father was born in Hungary and Morva was a Hungarian-American dual national.

“Our message and William’s story and his family’s story were resonating with a lot of people, and I don’t know why it didn’t resonate with the governor,” Morva’s attorney Dawn Davison said after the execution.


Governor Terry McAuliffe released the following statement Thursday about William Morva:

Over the past several weeks, my staff and I have carefully considered the petition for clemency submitted by William Morva, who was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the murder of Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff Corporal Eric Sutphin and hospital security guard Derrick McFarland. We have also reviewed extensive communications from family members of the victims, law enforcement officials, community leaders, and concerned observers from all over the world.

Consistent with the three previous petitions for commutation of a capital sentence that I have reviewed, I have evaluated Mr. Morva’s submission for evidence that he has been subjected to a miscarriage of justice at any phase of his trial that could have impacted the verdict or his sentence. After extensive review and deliberation, I do not find sufficient cause in Mr. Morva’s petition or case records to justify overturning the will of the jury that convicted and sentenced him.

There is no question that, in a carefully orchestrated effort to escape custody while awaiting trial for burglary, robbery and firearms charges, Mr. Morva brutally attacked a deputy sheriff, stole his firearm and used it to murder Mr. McFarland, who was unarmed and had his hands raised as he was shot in the face from a distance of two feet. The next day, Mr. Morva murdered Corporal Sutphin by shooting him in the back of the head.

Mr. Morva’s petition for clemency states that he suffers from a delusional disorder that rendered him unable to understand the consequences of his actions.

That diagnosis is inconsistent with the findings of the three licensed mental health professionals appointed by the trial court, including an expert psychiatrist who is Board-Certified in both Psychiatry and Forensic Psychiatry. Two of these three experts were called by Mr. Morva’s own legal team. These experts thoroughly evaluated Mr. Morva and testified to the jury that, while he may have personality disorders, he did not suffer from any condition that would have prevented him from committing these acts consciously and fully understanding their consequences.

As my team and I gave Mr. Morva’s mental state the consideration it deserves, we also consulted with the Virginia Department of Corrections, whose mental health staff have monitored him weekly and assessed him quarterly for the past nine years and have never reported any evidence of delusional disorder or severe mental illness.

Additionally, we evaluated the rulings of the numerous state and federal courts that have reviewed this case and have all upheld the jury’s verdict and sentence, including the Supreme Court of Virginia, the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and the Supreme Court of the United States.

Mr. Morva’s petition relies on the diagnosis of a psychiatrist who evaluated him nearly seven years after his trial and conviction. My team and I evaluated that report closely alongside the findings of the experts who testified at trial in order to determine if the totality of their findings might have led the jury or appellate courts to hand down a different sentence.

At the conclusion of that review, I have determined that Mr. Morva was given a fair trial and that the jury heard substantial evidence about his mental health as they prepared to sentence him in accordance with the law of our Commonwealth. In short, the record before me does not contain sufficient evidence to warrant the extraordinary step of overturning the decision of a lawfully empaneled jury following a properly conducted trial.

I personally oppose the death penalty; however, I took an oath to uphold the laws of this Commonwealth regardless of my personal views of those laws, as long as they are being fairly and justly applied. Thus, after extensive review and deliberation consistent with the process I have applied to previous requests for commutation, I have declined Mr. Morva’s petition. I have and will continue to pray for the families of the victims of these terrible crimes and for all of the people whose lives have been impacted.”

American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga released this statement in response:

We are saddened beyond words that Gov. Terry McAuliffe has chosen to allow the execution of William Morva, a mentally ill man, despite strong appeals for clemency from state, national and international mental health and human rights advocates. This is more evidence that the death penalty must be repealed in Virginia, and that until that happens the layers of secrecy surrounding it must be peeled back. We grieve with the families of Derrick McFarland and Eric Sutphin, as well as with Mr. Morva’s loved ones. One tragedy does not justify another.”

You can read the full statement from Morva’s lawyers here.


WATCH: William Morva was executed by lethal injection at 9:15 p.m. Officials and spectators provide an update on the execution.

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