By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Attorneys for a Virginia inmate convicted of killing two people during an escape in 2006 are asking Gov. Terry McAuliffe to spare his life.
William Morva’s attorneys said Tuesday that they have filed a clemency petition urging the Democratic governor to stop the man’s execution scheduled for July 6. His attorneys say jurors didn’t know that Morva suffers from a severe mental illness that they say led to his crimes.
They’re asking McAuliffe to commute his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Morva was in jail, awaiting trial, when he overpowered a deputy sheriff during a trip to the hospital. Authorities say he used the deputy’s pistol to fatally shoot an unarmed security guard and killed another deputy during a manhunt the next day.
From: Attorneys for William Morva June 20, 2017
Date: Clemency Sought for Severely Mentally Ill Man
Press Release: Scheduled to be Executed in Virginia on July 6.
Scheduled to be Executed in Virginia on July 6.
Attorneys for William Charles Morva have filed a petition for clemency with Virginia Governor Terence McAuliffe. The petition asks Governor McAuliffe to stop Mr. Morva’s July 6, 2017, execution because jurors who sentenced Mr. Morva to death did not know the truth about Mr. Morva’s mental state: that at the time of the crimes he was suffering from a severe mental illness, delusional disorder, and his delusions led to his crimes. The petition states that, under these circumstances, it would be inappropriate to proceed with Mr. Morva’s execution, and requests that Governor McAuliffe commute his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole and order that Mr. Morva receive appropriate medical treatment for his mental illness.
For more than a decade, William Morva has suffered from a serious psychotic disorder similar to schizophrenia. Mr. Morva’s psychoses include fixed—but false—beliefs that local law enforcement and the Administration of former President George W. Bush conspired to harass him, to arrest him unjustly, and to incarcerate him in jail conditions that would cause his death; that he had a life-threatening gastrointestinal condition that require him to spend hours every day on a toilet and adhere to a diet of raw meat, berries, and pinecones; and that he was called to lead indigenous tribes on an unexplained quest, that he had special skills and knowledge to succeed in this quest, and that the remote tribes would recognize his leadership status from his facial features. Mr. Morva has never received treatment for his mental illness, although administration of anti-psychotic medications has proven successful in controlling symptoms of people similarly affected.
In 2006, Mr. Morva was held in overcrowded conditions at the Montgomery County Jail awaiting trial on charges of burglary and attempted robbery. His family requested but could not obtain mental health treatment for him. Believing that his body could not survive prolonged incarceration in the conditions at the local jail and that his life was in imminent danger, Mr. Morva overpowered a guard who escorted him to the hospital for treatment of an injury. In the course of his escape, he fatally shot Derrick McFarland, a hospital security guard. Early the next morning, Mr. Morva was spotted on a local walking trial. When Montgomery County Sheriff’s Corporal Eric Sutphin responded to the sighting, Mr. Morva fatally shot him. Mr. Morva had no previous record of violence.
The evidence of Mr. Morva’s psychotic condition was never put before the jury that sentenced him to death. Based on an abbreviated investigation conducted before trial, jurors were told that Mr. Morva had a schizotypal personality disorder, meaning that he only had “odd beliefs” and problematic “attitudes towards the world.” Jurors were told that schizotypal personality disorder was not treatable and that Mr. Morva was unlikely to ever change.
Since trial, Mr. Morva’s complete psychiatric history has been developed. The only mental health expert to have reviewed this comprehensive history has determined that Mr. Morva has suffered for years from a major mental illness—delusional disorder. Delusional disorder is a form of psychosis which causes people to be unable to distinguish reality from delusions. Mr.
Morva has never received any kind of treatment for his mental illness prior to, or since, his arrest.
In recent years, Virginia Governors have a history of commuting death sentences of inmates with psychotic disorders. In 1999, Governor James S. Gilmore, III (R), commuted Calvin E. Swann’s death sentence due to Swann’s mental illness, and the fact that the jurors who sentenced Swann to death were not told about his complete psychiatric history and its impact on his behavior. In 2008, Governor Timothy F. Kaine (D) commuted Percy Levar Walton’s death sentence, due to Walton’s severely deteriorated mental health.
to put himself in William Morva’s shoes and feel what it must be like to believe in a reality that no one else does and to worry every day that the people who are supposed to care the most
about you are conspiring to hurt you. The jurors who sentenced William to death did not know how severely ill he was when he committed these terrible crimes. We have asked Governor McAuliffe to commute William’s death sentence to life imprisonment so he can receive
“I hope that Governor McAuliffe will be able
treatment for his mental illness, not punishment or persecution because of it.”
Notes to Editors:
• Mr. Morva has suffered for years from delusional disorder, a condition that has made him steadfastly believe in “realities” that are not true. For example, in the years following high school, Mr. Morva came to believe that he had special gifts and that he had been chosen to lead a movement according to Native American spirituality. In a more pronounced development, Mr. Morva began to believe that he was being wrongly persecuted on a number of fronts. Conditions in the Montgomery County Jail where Mr. Morva was held on other charges, were poor—including severe overcrowding and inadequate resources for mental health and medical treatment—and greatly exacerbated his fears. He lived in a continuous state of panic and imminent fear of death. His delusional condition led directly to the behavior resulting in the deaths of Derrick McFarland, a hospital security guard, and Eric Sutphin, a Corporal with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
Dawn M. Davison, a lawyer for Mr. Morva said:
• In August 2006, while receiving medical treatment at a nearby hospital, he disarmed the deputy sheriff escorting him, and fatally shot Mr. McFarland as he fled. Mr. Morva was at large until the following day, when he was spotted on a popular walking trail near the Virginia Tech campus. Still armed with the deputy’s gun, he shot and killed Cpl. Sutphin, who had responded to the sighting. Mr. Morva was apprehended in a thicket near the trail later that day, and charged with capital murder. He was 24 years old.
• Prior to his trial, Mr. Morva was misdiagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, a condition characterized by “odd beliefs,” and considered substantially less severe than delusional disorder. The prosecution argued that jurors judging Mr. Morva “need look no further than his actions and his words to know that” he presented a future danger to others if he was not sentenced to death. Just before his death sentence was imposed, Mr.
Morva renounced his “slave name” and told the court that his name was “Nemo”(Latin for “nobody”). He proclaimed that some day others like him would “sweep over civilization.”
• Investigation since the trial has revealed that people who spent the most time with Mr. Morva in the years leading up to the crimes were spoken with briefly or not at all about his behavior. As a result, the information developed for Mr. Morva’s capital trial was incomplete and inaccurate. Relying on a comprehensive investigation of Mr. Morva’s history, mental health experts have determined that Mr. Morva has suffered for years from delusional disorder, a condition in which a person steadfastly believes and acts in accordance with “realities” that are not true.