William Morva

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William Morva
Born William Charles Morva
(1982-02-09) February 9, 1982 (age 35)
Midlothian, Virginia
Criminal penalty Death
Victims Eric Sutphin
Derrick McFarland
Date August 20-21, 2006

William Charles Morva (born February 9, 1982) is an Hungarian-American convicted of the two 2006 shooting deaths of Sheriff's Deputy Cpl. Eric Sutphin and hospital security guard Derrick McFarland, in the town of Blacksburg, Virginia, United States. The shooting deaths occurred near the university campus of Virginia Tech, while he awaited trial for attempted armed robbery. A jury sentenced him to death on May 23, 2008, but doctors now say that he suffers from a serious mental illness [1] delusional disorder that caused him to kill - a fact not shared with the jury.[1] Judge Ray Grubbs initially set the execution date for October 21, 2008. On June 4, 2009, an appeal for William Morva was made to the Virginia Supreme Court. However, the capital murder conviction and death sentence were confirmed on September 18, 2009.

The United States Supreme Court declined to review the case in February of 2017.[2] Subsequently, Judge Robert Turk set the execution date for July 6, 2017. [3] On June 20, 2017, William Morva's lawyers, on his behalf, filed a request for clemency with Virginia Governor Terrence McAuliffe. They requested that Governor McAuliffe, in light of evidence concerning William's true mental state, commute his sentence from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole.[4][5] They also urged the Governor to ensure that William receives treatment with anti-psychotic drugs rather than a lethal injection. Representatives from both Hungary and the European Union have met with and sent letters urging Governor McAuliffe to stop the execution of William Morva, a severely mentally ill man.[6]

Early Years[edit]

William Morva lived in the Midlothian, Virginia area until his father, Charles Morva, retired and moved the family to Blacksburg. Charles worked as a substitute teacher at Blacksburg High School and barista at a local coffee shop until moving back to the Richmond area with his wife, Elizabeth.[7] Christina Garnder, who attended high school with William, reported that he had a difficult relationship with his father. In 2000 William dropped out of high school and subsequently became a fixture in the Virginia Tech Community.[8] He frequently visited several of the university's eateries where he regularly engaged patrons in passionate conversations. Store owners and regulars described him as a young man full of bluster and tall tales, with an aversion for shoes and winter jackets even on the coldest days. Many of his acquaintances described him as living in a different world.

In April 2004, William's father died of cancer. William's friends believed that he did not know how to deal with the death of his father and observed a spiraling decline in his behavior. Prior to his initial arrest in 2005, William had earned a reputation as a drifter without a fixed permanent address. A self-professed survivalist, he was almost always without shoes, ate only raw meat, berries and pine cones, and spoke of spending nights in the woods around Blacksburg. Many who knew him began questioning his mental state.

Blacksburg Shootings[edit]

On August 18, 2005, William and another young man, both armed and wearing masks went up to the Blacksburg Deli Mart. The doors of the store did not open automatically because the store was closed, and they left. The clerk inside saw them and called the police. The Blacksburg police later that night arrested William for attempted armed robbery. [9] While in jail awaiting trial, William was taken to Montgomery Regional Hospital on August 20, 2006, for a sprained ankle and wrist. After using a hospital bathroom, he knocked deputy Russell Quesenberry[10] unconscious using a metal toilet-paper container. He took the deputy's gun and shot Derrick McFarland, a hospital security guard who was running to the deputy's aid. McFarland died from his wounds.[11][12]

Police at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, responding to a report of William Charles Morva being seen in the area.

This initiated a manhunt for William, who on the morning of August 21, 2006, shot and killed a Montgomery County sheriff's deputy, Cpl. Eric Sutphin, on the Huckleberry Trail near the Virginia Tech Campus. Sutphin, born 1966, had been an officer for a total of 13 years and had survived a prior shooting in May 2003, which killed officer Scott Hylton, leading Sutphin to quit the police force; he returned, however, after just six months away despite making much more money as a modular home salesman. He was survived by his wife, Tamara, and his nine-year-old twin daughters.[13]

Police evacuated and searched Squires Student Center on the campus after someone fitting Morva's description was seen inside. However, this sighting turned out to be unfounded. Virginia Tech canceled classes and closed campus.[14] At 3:36 p.m. EDT August 21, 2006, Montgomery County police reported over the police scanner that William was captured and taken into custody. He was found hiding in a briar patch about 150 yards from where Sutphin was fatally shot.

Legal Proceedings[edit]

On August 29, 2006, Commonwealth's Attorney Brad Finch announced that William Morva would be charged with capital murder and use of a firearm in the shooting death of McFarland. A second capital murder charge would be sought in the shooting death of Sutphin, to be decided on at the grand jury meeting on October 10, 2006. Finch also stated that he would seek the death penalty for Morva.[15]

Morva’s defense attorney requested a change of the trial location for Morva’s original robbery charges. The cases include the failed armed robbery of the Blacksburg Deli Mart and attempted burglaries of Blacksburg’s Freedom First Credit Union, Food Time and Burger King. The trial was to be held at Montgomery County Circuit Court, but Morva’s attorneys argued it would be impossible to find an impartial jury in Montgomery County due to the publicity Morva received since his escape and the subsequent murders. Morva’s attorney is quoted as saying, “I don’t think there (have) been this many cases that have gotten nearly as much attention.” [16]

Morva's trial hearings began September 17, 2007, in Montgomery County for two counts of capital murder, and one count of attempting to commit murder with a firearm. On September 20, Judge Ray Grubbs ruled, following a jury selection process in which 45 prospective jurors were dismissed for cause, that the trial could not be held in Montgomery County.[17] On March 13, 2008 Morva was sentenced to death in an Abingdon, Virginia court.[18] He has made an appeal on June, 2009 to the Supreme Court of Virginia.[19] On September 18, 2009, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed Morva's convictions and death sentences in a 5-2 decision.[20] The Virginia Supreme Court rejected the defense's claim that he should have been allowed to present an expert's testimony on whether he would endanger guards or fellow inmates if the jury sentenced him to life in prison without parole.[21]

On July 24, he was called to appear in Christiansburg by videoconferencing, to testify for the defense in a trial for his brother, Michael Morva, who is charged with helping him escape from the Montgomery County Jail nearly three years before.[22] This trial was delayed, and William Morva is expected to testify in a later trial.[23]

In October 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Morva's appeal.[24]

On April 12, 2013, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a published order dismissing Morva's habeas corpus petition challenging his capital murder convictions. The courts opinion was handed down April 18, 2013.[25]

On April 15, 2015, U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski dismissed Morva’s federal appeal.[26]

On May 5, 2016, a federal appeals court rejected another appeal of Morva's.[27]

On February 21, 2017, The United States Supreme Court rejected to heard the appeal. Attorneys for Morva, told the Supreme Court that he was unfairly prevented from presenting evidence at trial to refute prosecutors’ argument that Morva would threaten the lives of prison guards and others if allowed to live. Morva’s trial lawyers had said a forensic psychologist would have shown jurors that Morva wasn’t dangerous in prison, but they were blocked from presenting that testimony.[28]

On May 9, 2017, as per a request by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring four days prior, Morva's execution date was set for Thursday, July 6, 2017.

Mental Illness[edit]

People who knew William, growing up in Richmond and Blacksburg, say he was a great kid.[29] His attorney Dawn Davison says he had a wide circle of friends when he was younger, and they describe him as this incredibly loving young man, a generous defender of the underdog – the kind of guy who would run up to you and give you a hug. Later she says he began to show signs of mental illness. She explained that William dropped out of high school because he believed he was on an important mission. He described the mission differently over time as either saving the world or saving certain indigenous populations in the world. He believed that he would come upon a secret tribe or a hidden tribe in South America, and that they would recognize him as somebody who has come to save them. [30]

William was also convinced that he suffered from a serious intestinal disease. According to his lawyer Davison, "In order to treat his intestinal disease William began eating raw meat or nearly raw meat in large quantities, large quantities of cheese, at times trying a diet that consisted of nuts and berries and pine cones – the sorts of things that you and I think, can’t possibly help a stomach disorder." At the same time William believed that the Bush administration was somehow in cahoots with the Blacksburg police department, and that they were targeting him.[31]

William's mental decline was initially attributed to schizotypal personality disorder; he was diagnosed with the disorder following his arrest.[32] As a result of this diagnosis, the jurors who sentenced him to death were told that he merely had odd beliefs and attitudes. [33] A fuller evaluation conducted later, during William's appeal, determined that he had a more serious diagnosis of delusional disorder, a condition that left him unable to tell reality from delusion. [34][35]

Related Incident[edit]

William's brother, Michael Morva, was charged with conspiring to help his brother escape. The alleged conspiracy occurred in January 2006, when both brothers were in jail on charges related to attempted thefts. Michael denied any connection with Morva's August 2006 escape from police custody, but was convicted on August 3, 2010, and sentenced to three years in prison.[36] Elizabeth Morva, the Morvas' mother, and Emily Happel, their sister, do not believe that Michael tried to help his brother escape. They believe he tried to warn law enforcement that his brother was mentally ill and might try to escape. [37]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Hausman, Sandy. "State to Execute Morva Despite Serious Mental Illness". WVTF Public Radio. NPR/BBC/Music. Retrieved 8 June 2017. 
  2. ^ Sturgeon, Jeff (21 February 2017). "U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear appeal of William Morva, who killed 2 in Blacksburg". The Roanoke Times. The Roanoke Times. Newspaper. Retrieved 8 June 2017. 
  3. ^ Gangloff, Mike (9 May 2017). "Morva execution set for July 6". The Roanoke Times. The Roanoke Times. Regional Newspaper. Retrieved 8 June 2017. 
  4. ^ Durkin Richer, Alanna. "Attorneys: Morva needs mental health treatment, not execution". Richmond Times Dispatcher (20 June 2017). Associated Press. Retrieved 22 June 2017. 
  5. ^ Hausman, Sandy. "State to Execute Morva Despite Serious Mental Illness". WVTF Public Radio. IQ Radio/NPR/BBC. Retrieved 8 June 2017. 
  6. ^ Staff, WSLS10. "European Union trying to block William Morva execution". WSLS10 (23 June 2017). Retrieved 23 June 2017. 
  7. ^ Alvis-Banks, Donna (21 August 2006). "Shooting suspect called 'wanderer'". The Roanoke Times. The Roanoke Times. Newspaper. Retrieved 9 June 2017. 
  8. ^ Shear, Michael D. (23 August 2006). "Suspect Was Legend In Va. Tech Community". The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Newspaper. Retrieved 9 June 2017. 
  9. ^ Eaton, Joe. "2 men arrested in Blacksburg robbery attempt". The Roanoke Times (18 August 2005). Retrieved 23 June 2017. 
  10. ^ The Roanoke Times: Breaking news: William Morva trial Archives
  11. ^ "Details released on Morva's flight, more news on the aftermath of a deadly escape and manhunt", The Roanoke Times, August 22, 2006, retrieved August 22, 2006.
  12. ^ Thornton, Tim. "'He was the heart of our family'", The Roanoke Times, August 23, 2006, retrieved August 23, 2006.
  13. ^ "Va. had given slain deputy valor medal in 2003". Archived from the original on 2014-02-19. 
  14. ^ Hincker, Larry. "Suspect in police custody; university to resume normal operations" Archived August 25, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., Virginia Tech News, August 21, 2006, retrieved August 22, 2006.
  15. ^ Morission, Shawna (29 August 2006). "Death penalty will be sought for Morva, prosecutor says". The Roanoke Times (29 August 2006). THe Roanoke Times. Newspaper. Retrieved 9 June 2017. 
  16. ^ Reinerurg, Katie (6 December 2006). "Defense blames publicity in attempt to move Morva trial". Collegiate Times. Collegiate Times. Newspaper. Retrieved 9 June 2017. 
  17. ^ "Morva trial moved out of Montgomery Co.". WDBJ. 2007-09-20. Archived from the original on 2008-03-19. Retrieved 2007-09-20. 
  18. ^ Lindsey, Sue (2008-03-13). "Death Verdict for Escapee Who Killed 2". Associated Press. Archived from the original on March 17, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-14. 
  19. ^ "Morva appeals death penalty to Virginia courts". Collegiate Times. 2009-06-10. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  20. ^ http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1090186.pdf
  21. ^ "Va. high court upholds Morva death sentences". Roanoke Times. 2009-09-19. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  22. ^ "William Morva may testify at brother's trial". The Roanoke Times. 2009-06-24. Archived from the original on 2012-09-08. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  23. ^ "Michael Morva trial delayed". WDBJ. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2009-07-02. [dead link]
  24. ^ "Va. death sentence appeal denied". The Washington Post. 
  25. ^ Powell, Melissa (April 19, 2013). "High court upholds Morva's convictions". The Roanoke Times. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  26. ^ Sturgeon, Jeff (May 7, 2015). "Appeal rejected, convicted killer Morva prepares next appeal". The Roanoke Times. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  27. ^ "4th Circuit Rejects Virginia Death Row Inmate's Appeal". ABC News. May 5, 2016. Retrieved May 8, 2016. 
  28. ^ "Supreme Court rejects appeal from Virginia death row inmate". Washington's top news. February 21, 2017. Retrieved February 21, 2017. 
  29. ^ "Ep24 - William Morva ***URGENT***". Misconduct. a true crime podcast. Soundcloud. Retrieved 23 June 2017. 
  30. ^ Hausman, Sandy. "State to Execute Morva Despite Serious Mental Illness". WVTF (5 June 2017). NPR/BBC. Retrieved 23 June 2017. 
  31. ^ Wadell, Bill. "New request to halt execution of Morva". VirginiaFirst.com (20 June 2017). Retrieved 22 June 2017. 
  32. ^ "Morva sentenced to death". 
  33. ^ Wadell, Bill. "New request to halt execution of Morva". VirginiaFirst.com (20 June 2017). Retrieved 22 June 2017. 
  34. ^ Gangloff, Mike. "Morva attorneys ask governor to stop execution". The Roanoke Times (20 June 2017). Retrieved 22 June 2017. 
  35. ^ Cote, Nicholas. "Executing a severely mentally ill man would be an injustice". The Washington Post (16 June 2017). Retrieved 22 June 2017. 
  36. ^ Morission, Shawna (29 August 2006). "Death penalty will be sought for Morva, prosecutor says". The Roanoke Times (29 August 2006). THe Roanoke Times. Newspaper. Retrieved 9 June 2017. 
  37. ^ Morrision, Shawna (21 July 2009). "Morva trial turns ugly; brother is convicted". The Roanoke Time (21 July 2009). The Roanoke Times. Newspaper. Retrieved 9 June 2017.