Virginia carries out execution despite pleas inmate was mentally ill

| July 10, 2017 | 1 Comment

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is seen in Alexandria, Va., June 14. CNS photo/Michael Reynolds, EPA

Virginia officials executed a man convicted of killing a hospital security guard and a sheriff’s deputy despite the pleas of advocates who said the crimes resulted from severe mental illness.

William Morva, 35, was pronounced dead at 9:15 p.m. EDT July 6 after a lethal injection at Greensville correctional center.

Lisa Kinney, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Corrections, said the execution was carried out without complications.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced hours before the execution that he would not block the death sentence from being carried out despite appeals from attorneys, mental health advocates and state lawmakers that Morva’s mental illness made it impossible for him to distinguish between delusions and reality.

As the execution neared, the Virginia Catholic Conference reissued its statement explaining the Catholic Church’s stance against the death penalty.

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael Burbidge or Arlington, representing the conference, said people of God “are led to a profound respect for every human, from its very beginning until its natural end.”

“Knowing that the state can protect itself in ways other than through the death penalty, we have repeatedly asked that the practice be abandoned Our broken world cries out for justice, not the additional violence or vengeance the death penalty will exact,” the statement said.

Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, told Catholic News Service the release was timed for Morva’s execution.

“In light of the execution, we wanted to reaffirm the church’s teaching on the death penalty and continue to deepen that awareness of the church’s teaching on the death penalty,” he said.

The bishops’ statement expressed “profound sorrow” and offered prayers for “all victims of violence, whose lives have been brutally cut short, and their loved ones, whose grief continues.”

“We pray for a change of heart and a spirit of remorse and conversion on the part of the perpetrators of this violence and ask God to give all of us the grace to work for peace and respect for all life in our communities and our commonwealth,” the statement added.

Morva was convicted of killing a hospital security guard and a sheriff’s deputy after escaping from custody in 2006. His execution was the first in the state under a new protocol that makes more of the lethal injection procedure secret, The Associated Press reported.

The execution also was the second in Virginia this year. A third person set to be executed in April had his sentence commuted by McAuliffe and is serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Since 1976 when states began rewriting laws to allow the use of the death penalty Virginia has executed 113 people, the second most of any state. Only Texas has executed more people — 542 — in the same period, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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  • Charles C.

    Here is Governor McAuliffe’s statement:

    “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.”

    As an aside, which I think is important, “justice” and “protecting society” are two different things, justice being the first priority.