Morva Execution Reminds Us of the Importance of Each Capital Jury Trial

Last night, Virginia Death Row inmate William Morva was executed by lethal injection.  Morva was sentenced to death for the 2006 killing of a sheriff's deputy and a hospital security guard while Morva was unsuccessfully trying to escape from a hospital.  

Morva Suffered Severe Mental Impairment

Earlier on the day of the Morva execution, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe considered and denied a petition for clemency.  The basis of the petition was Morva's mental state.

William Morva had been evaluated by psychiatric and psychological experts.  It was their opinion that William Morva suffered serious mental illness and that he was mentally ill at the time of the killings for which he was convicted.  That Morva was delusional at the time, and could not comprehend what he was doing at the time.

In his statement released after the denial, Governor McAuliffe gave two reasons for denying clemency:

(1) the opinions of three mental health experts during the capital trial that Morva could understand right from wrong at the time of the killings; and

(2) the files of those monitoring Morva during his nine years of confinement, where "...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."

ABA Letter Asking for Clemency 

Many were fighting against this execution.  Among them, the American Bar Association which sent a letter to the governor of Virginia in a last ditch effort to get clemency and stop the execution. 

Read the ABA Letter here. 

Governor's Letter Affirms The Importance of Defense in Capital Trial

From the Governor's letter comes the following explanation - which only serves to affirm how very important the work of capital defense lawyers like Terence Lenamon is when it comes to a capital case.  

Terry focuses upon the sentencing phase of these death penalty trials, where the jury is given arguments from both sides on whether or not to sentence the defendant to death.  

The decision of that capital jury is strong -- and while it may be overturned upon appeal, the Morva case reminds us all that the jury's verdict may also remain ... and death can be the result.

From the Governor's statement:

“At the conclusion of that review, I have determined that Mr. Morva was given a fair trial and that the jury heard substantial evidence about his mental health as they prepared to sentence him in accordance with the law of our Commonwealth. In short, the record before me does not contain sufficient evidence to warrant the extraordinary step of overturning the decision of a lawfully empaneled jury following a properly conducted trial.

“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. Thus, after extensive review and deliberation consistent with the process I have applied to previous requests for commutation, I have declined Mr. Morva’s petition. I have and will continue to pray for the families of the victims of these terrible crimes and for all of the people whose lives have been impacted.”

 

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