Virginia governor rejects clemency for convicted killer
(CNN) — The governor of Virginia has declined to halt the execution of a man who killed a sheriff’s deputy and a security guard, despite pleas that his life be spared because he is mentally ill.
William Morva, 35, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.
“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,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Thursday in a statement.
Morva was awaiting trial on attempted armed robbery charges in 2006 when he demanded medical treatment and was taken to a hospital. There he knocked a sheriff’s deputy unconscious, took his gun and used it to fatally shoot security guard Derrick McFarland before fleeing the hospital. The next day Morva shot and killed Montgomery County Sheriff’s Corporal Eric Sutphin on a bike path in Blacksburg.
“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,” McAuliffe said. “The next day, Mr. Morva murdered Corporal Sutphin by shooting him in the back of the head.”
Morva was convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to death in 2008.
His case drew widespread attention and has added fuel to an ongoing debate about whether capital punishment is ethical for inmates who suffer from mental illness.
“William Morva’s July 6 execution will not make our community safer,” said Dawn Davison, one of his attorneys, in a statement Thursday. “He is not ‘the worst of the worst’ for whom the death penalty is supposed to be reserved. He is a person with a severe mental illness whose problematic and criminal behaviors were driven by his chronic psychotic disorder.”
Deputy’s daughter had sought clemency
Among those who have fought his execution is Rachel Sutphin, the deputy’s daughter.
She staunchly opposes the death penalty and has cited “religious and moral reasons” for her stance.
“I have fought and will continue to fight for clemency for all death row inmates until Virginia declares the death penalty unconstitutional. I have sent my own letter to the Governor showing my support for clemency,” she said in a statement sent to reporters before McAuliffe’s announcement.
But Jeaneen Sutphin, the deputy’s mother, supported Morva’s execution. She told CNN affiliate WRAL that while has sympathy for Morva’s family she is ready to see justice for her son.
Many arguments for sparing Morva’s life focused on the lack of testimony during his trial about his mental health.
Morva’s lawyers say their client suffered a serious delusional disorder — a psychosocial disability — that was not fully considered during trial.
“This is a young man who was kind, compassionate, thoughtful and loving,” Davison told CNN. “When he became mentally ill, that all changed.”
Affidavits from friends documented Morva’s shift in behavior over the years.
Davison told CNN that religious organizations, national and local mental health agencies, the ACLU of Virginia and the United Nations all spoke out against Morva’s execution.
Debate over mental health
Twenty-two state legislators, a congressman and at least 34,000 people worldwide also supported clemency for Morva through phone calls, emails and petitions to the governor, Davison said.
A Twitter account and a hashtag, #Mercy4Morva, were dedicated to raising awareness about the case.
Davison told CNN before McAuliffe’s announcement she hoped Morva would be moved from death row to a correctional treatment center.
“He would be able to express remorse and fashion a productive life for himself,” she said. “We believe he can be restored to the person that he was.”
But McAuliffe said he disagreed with a petition for clemency that argued Morva suffered 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,” McAuliffe said.
“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.”