JARRATT VA July 7 2017 — William C. Morva was executed by injection Thursday night for the capital murders of an unarmed security guard and a deputy sheriff during an escape in Montgomery County in 2006.
Morva, a 35-year-old former Chesterfield County resident whose lawyers said suffered from a chronic psychotic disorder, was pronounced dead at the Greensville Correctional Center at 9:15 p.m.
The execution occurred without any complications, according to Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Corrections.
At 8:59 p.m., a curtain barring the view of witnesses into the execution chamber was opened. Morva was breathing deeply while lying strapped onto a gurney with IV lines in his arms.
His face could not be seen. He would raise his head slightly and then drop it every few seconds. At 9 p.m., Warden Eddie Pearson read the death warrant, then asked him, “Mr. Morva, do you have any last words?”
“No,” Morva replied.
The first of three drugs was administered. His deep breathing and apparent nodding continued. At 9:03 p.m., he appeared to be speaking and made a loud sound like a hiccup. His diaphragm contracted sharply several times. He then grew still. At 9:05 p.m., an execution team member checked to make sure he was unconscious before the second and third drugs were administered.
At 9:14 p.m., a physician checked for a heartbeat with a stethoscope. A minute later, Morva’s death was official.
On Aug. 20, 2006, while in jail awaiting trial on attempted robbery and other charges, Morva was taken to the Montgomery Regional Hospital for treatment of minor injuries. He assaulted a deputy who was escorting him, knocking him unconscious and taking his handgun.
Morva encountered Derrick McFarland, 32, a hospital security guard and shot him in the face. The next day Morva shot Eric Sutphin, 40, a deputy sheriff who was searching for him, in the back of the head. Morva was convicted of capital murder, assault and battery of a law enforcement officer and escape by force.
His legal appeals exhausted, Morva’s lawyers filed a clemency petition with Gov. Terry McAuliffe asking that the death sentence be commuted to life. They argued that the jury did not know of his serious mental illness, diagnosed by a forensic psychiatrist years after his trial.
In a statement released at 2:17 p.m., Gov. Terry McAuliffe turned down Morva’s petition and sided with state officials who said Morva’s pre-trial diagnoses by experts were valid and that the jury considered them and nevertheless sentenced Morva to death.
“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,” said the governor.
He added, “We also consulted with the 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.”
Morva’s clemency petition divided at least one of the victims’ families — a daughter of Sutphin asked McAuliffe to grant clemency, while Sutphin’s mother hoped to see the death penalty carried out for the sake of justice.
On Wednesday, two experts with the United Nations urged McAuliffe not to execute Morva. His lawyers said Thursday that more than 34,000 people signed petitions backing clemency and 28 state legislators and three members of Congress also supported clemency.
Bill Farrar, with the ACLU of Virginia, said the organization was saddened by McAuliffe’s decision “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,” he said.
Before Morva’s execution, a group of 10 people protesting the death penalty gathered outside the prison, including the Rev. Hilary Streever. She said she knew Morva when she attended Virginia Tech and that he was odd, but kind. They met in a coffee shop a couple years before he was accused of armed robbery.
“He was a little strange and from there he grew stranger,” said Streever, who now lives in Richmond.
“The Episcopal Church is against the death penalty,” she said. “I’ve always been against it religiously, but this is my first personal connection to it,” she said.
The Rev. Lauren Ramseur, a member of the board for the Virginians Against the Death Penalty, said she’s led one other vigil for an execution. “We are here to witness for life and hope,” she said.
“I’m opposed to the death penalty in any case,” Ramseur said. “I think it is particularly wrong to murder someone who’s sick because he acted out of his mental illness and we should have compassion.”
Executions are carried out in “L-Unit,” or the death house, at the Greensville Correctional Center.