William Charles Morva (born February 9, 1982) is an American former fugitive who was 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, near the university campus of Virginia Tech, while escaping trial for attempted armed robbery. He was sentenced to death on May 23, 2008. Judge Ray Grubbs set the execution date for October 21, 2008, with an automatic appeal. On June 4, 2009, an appeal for William Morva was made to the Virginia Supreme Court. The capital murder conviction and death sentence were confirmed on September 18, 2009.
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. Charles Morva died in April 2004. Acquaintances say that they saw a decline in William Morva's behavior after the death of his father. This decline could be attributed to schizotypal personality disorder; Morva was diagnosed with the disorder following his arrest.
Morva had been a drifter without a permanent fixed address prior to his initial arrest in 2005. A self-professed survivalist, he was almost always without shoes, and spoke of spending nights in the woods around Blacksburg.
Escape and capture
While in jail awaiting trial for attempted armed robbery, and facing a maximum 38 years sentence, Morva was taken to Montgomery Regional Hospital on August 20, 2006 for a sprained ankle and wrist. After using a hospital bathroom, he assaulted and knocked deputy Russell Quesenberry unconscious using a metal toilet-paper container. He seized 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.
This initiated a manhunt for Morva, 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.
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. At 3:36 p.m. EDT August 21, 2006, Montgomery County police reported over the police scanner that Morva was captured and taken into custody. He was found hiding in a briar patch about 150 yards from where Sutphin was fatally shot.
Morva's brother, Michael Akos Morva, has been charged with conspiring to 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 August 3, 2010, of conspiracy and sentenced to three years in prison.
On August 29, 2006, Commonwealth's Attorney Brad Finch announced that 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.
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.”
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. On March 13, 2008 Morva was sentenced to death in an Abingdon, Virginia court. He has made an appeal on June, 2009 to the Supreme Court of Virginia. On September 18, 2009, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed Morva's convictions and death sentences in a 5-2 decision. 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.
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. This trial was delayed, and William Morva is expected to testify in a later trial.
In October 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Morva's appeal.
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- The Roanoke Times: Breaking news: William Morva trial Archives
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- "Va. court upholds death sentence for escapee". Richmond Times Dispatch. 2009-09-19. Retrieved 2009-09-22.[dead link]
- "Va. high court upholds Morva death sentences". Roanoke Times. 2009-09-19. Retrieved 2009-09-22.[dead link]
- "William Morva may testify at brother's trial". The Roanoke Times. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2009-07-01.[dead link]
- "Michael Morva trial delayed". WDBJ. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2009-07-02.[dead link]
- "Va. death sentence appeal denied". The Washington Post.
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