William Morva, 35, was executed Thursday after an unsuccessful campaign to spare the inmate’s life over concerns about his mental health. He was pronounced dead at 9:15 p.m. after a lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. It was the first execution carried out in Virginia under a new protocol that makes more of the lethal injection procedure secret.
Morva’s execution came hours after Virginia’s Democratic governor announced that he would not commute Morva’s sentence. Mental health advocates, state lawmakers and attorneys contended Morva’s crimes were the result of a severe mental illness that made it impossible for him to distinguish between delusions and reality.
“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 statement.
The case against Morva is based on his escape from a mental facility at a hospital, believing that he had supernatural powers and was sent on a mission to save indigenous tribes. Morva was awaiting trial on attempted robbery charges in 2005 when he was taken to the hospital to treat an injury. There, he attacked a sheriff’s deputy with a metal toilet paper holder, stole the deputy’s gun, and shot an unarmed security guard. A day later, Morva killed another sheriff’s deputy with a bullet to the back of the head. The deputy, Eric Sutphin, had been searching for Morva near Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus when he was shot. Morva spent several months living in the woods foraging for food. He was also barefoot. At his trial, he insisted he be called “Nemo”. He had been previously banned from Virginia Tech’s campus after police found him half naked on a bathroom floor.
A psychiatrist has diagnosed Morva with delusional disorder, a “more severe mental illness akin to schizophrenia that made him falsely believe, among other things, that he has life-threatening gastrointestinal issues and that a former presidential administration conspired with police to imprison him.”
McAuliffe’s decision not to commute the sentence has been criticized for not only lacking in compassion, but for also being politically motivated. With Lt. Governor Ralph Northam in a tight race with law and order candidate Ed Gillespie, critics claim the decision may have been used to avoid the “soft on crime” issue that has plagued democratic candidates in the past.
While McAuliffe did commute the execution of Ivan Teleguz in 2008, former Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine also stopped the execution of triple murderer Percy L. Walton and commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole, saying that Walton was mentally incompetent and that putting him to death would be unconstitutional.