William Morva was executed last night, July 6, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, for killing two people, a security guard and a sheriff’s deputy, while he was on a hospital visit from the county jail where he had been incarcerated for a year for a botched burglary. He was sentenced to death in 2008, two years after the murders.
Morva suffered from delusional disorder, a disease that made him believe things that weren’t true. The jury was never fully informed of the extent of Morva’s mental illness. In fact, trial experts told jurors he simply had “odd beliefs” and that he didn’t suffer delusions.
In an interview with DPF for a story about the case that ran in our monthly zine, “The Focus,” Dawn Davison, one of Morva’s attorneys, said, “If the death penalty is for the worst of the worst, then a person whose actions are driven by an illness over which he has no control can’t be defined as being the worst of the worst. And I have a hard time believing that 12 reasonable jurors who heard that evidence would have sentenced that person to death.”
And as hard as it is to believe that 12 reasonable jurors would sentence Morva to death if they knew the extent of his mental illness, it is even harder to believe today that Gov. Terry McAuliffe allowed the execution to go forward.
Who could look at the photos of William Morva and not believe that he suffers from mental illness? Who could look at his life before he was imprisoned, and not believe that he needed psychiatric help? Who believes that executing the mentally ill is a justifiable act in a civilized society?
“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,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe wrote in a press release announcing he would allow the execution to take place. Who would work at a job that requires one to take actions that are in conflict with one’s personal beliefs?
“McAuliffe’s excuse rings hollow. In Virginia, as elsewhere, the death penalty is never mandatory, and a governor may stop an execution any time he believes it is right to do so. As the Florida State Supreme Court once wrote, ‘An executive may grant a pardon for good reasons or bad, or for any reason at all, and his act is final and irrevocable’” Austin Sarat wrote in Cognoscenti .
Gov. McAuliffe could have done the right thing and commuted Morva’s sentence to life without parole, and allowed him to get the psychiatric medications he needed. It would have been an act of mercy, and been in line with the teachings of the Catholic faith that McAuliffe says he follows
“The execution of a man suffering from severe mental illness is an act of particular barbarism — especially if his condition may have been misdiagnosed in trial,” the Washington Post wrote about the Morva case late last month.
But McAuliffe didn’t act, and William Morva was executed, and the rest of the civilized world sees yet another example of our barbaric death penalty system. Does anyone really believe that the Commonwealth of Virginia is any safer, or its citizens better off, with this state killing?