RICHMOND, Va. – As the execution of William Morva loomed, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced he would not extend clemency to the convicted murderer.
Morva's court-appointed attorney Dawn Davison, who earlier expressed optimism the governor would grant her client clemency, responded to McAuliffe's decision and said the "execution will not make our community safer."
"He is not 'the worst of the worst' for whom the death penalty is supposed to be reserved," Davison said. "He is a person with a severe mental illness whose problematic and criminal behaviors were driven by his chronic psychotic disorder."
"People living with severe mental illness and their families know what a profound impact it can have on behavior, even sometimes producing criminal behavior," she continued. "But severe mental illness is not the entire measure of a man." [Her full statement at the bottom]
In August of 2006, Morva was an inmate at the Montgomery County Jail, awaiting charges on charges of burglary and attempted robbery. During a visit to the hospital for treatment, Morva overpowered Derrick McFarland, a hospital security guard and fatally shot him.
The next morning, Morva used McFarland's gun and fatally shot Montgomery County Sheriff’s Corporal Eric Sutphin, who attempted to capture him. That same day, Morva was captured.
His attorneys said Morva had no previous record of violence before these incidents.
Davison said mental health experts that evaluated Morva and testified during his trial were not made aware of his mental state in the years before the crimes.
"The trial was fundamentally unfair because the jurors were not told about the severe mental illness at that William has in the role and played in the crimes," Davison said. "In 2014, he was evaluated by a court-appointed psychiatrist and she was the one who diagnosed him with the delusion disorder, which is a psychotic disorder."
Davison told WTVR CBS 6 in a Skype interview from her Charlottesville office that she hasn't seen her client in more than four years.
"William doesn't accept visits from his counsel," she explained. "He thinks we are part of a bigger conspiracy to kill him. William has also been declining visits from his family for many years and I know that's weighed heavily on [his mother, Elizabeth.]"
Numerous individuals and agencies petitioned McAuliffe to commute the sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Twenty-four Virginia legislators also petitioned the governor to grant clemency.
Montgomery County Commonwealth's Attorney Mary Pettitt wrote McAuliffe a letter that urged him not to grant clemency.
"Mr. Morva’s counsel now asserts that his trial was unfair because the jury had insufficient information about his mental health at the time he committed the crimes. This is highly inaccurate. Prior to trial, Mr. Morva was evaluated by a number of experienced and eminent mental health experts...To assert some 10 years later that all three of the original experts were wrong is absurd."
Pettitt further explained to WTVR CBS 6 a second separate issue is whether Morva is now mentally ill and whether a mentally ill person should be executed, which she did not address in the letter.
McAuliffe was Morva's last hope after the Supreme Court decided not to intervene earlier this year.
"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 released statement. “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.”
Morva is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 9 p.m. Thursday at Greensville Correctional Facility in Jarratt.
Statement from Morva's attorney in response to McAuliffe's decision:
William Morva’s July 6 execution will not make our community safer. 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. People living with severe mental illness and their families know what a profound impact it can have on behavior, even sometimes producing criminal behavior. But severe mental illness is not the entire measure of a man.
At the time that he killed Derrick McFarland and Eric Sutphin, William was in the grip of a powerful psychosis that made him believe he had to escape in order to save his own life. The jurors who sentenced William to death did not know about these inescapable delusions, and the dynamic role they played in William’s crimes. Jurors were not told that with treatment William could be restored to mental health.
Only one of the experts at William’s trial even spoke to a witness. And he only spoke to two. Neither had lived in the town where William lived for at least five years immediately preceding the crimes. Neither had the opportunity to observed his dramatic mental decline and its impact on his daily behavior. The Virginia Department of Corrections never conducted a mental health evaluation of Mr. Morva during his incarceration. Attorneys for the Commonwealth did not ask for an evaluation when the federal court afforded them the opportunity to do so. The Virginia Department of Corrections previously denied Percy Levar Walton and Calvin Swann were mentally ill before Governors Kaine and Gilmore rejected those conclusions and determined commutation was appropriate. Walton was later diagnosed and successfully treated by the Department of Corrections for schizophrenia.
William apparently will go to his grave never having received treatment for his chronic psychotic disorder. Sadly, when he is executed, he will understand it to be the natural but horrific ending to a campaign of persecution that has been waged against him for fifteen years. Such is the power of delusions that even the prospect of imminent death cannot dispel them.
We hope that by improving access to proper evaluation and treatment for persons living with severe mental illness we can avoid future tragedies.