Virginia executes ‘mentally ill’ man for 2006 murders

Amid requests from various quarters for clemency, Virginia on July 6 executed a 35-year-old “mentally ill” man who was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing two persons. William Morva was pronounced dead after he was injected with a fatal drug at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, media reports said.

Morva, who had dual U.S.-Hungarian citizenship, was suffering from a delusional disorder, his lawyer claimed. Significantly, over 34,000 people from the European Union, the Hungarian Embassy in Washington and human rights experts from the United Nations had requested for Morva’s clemency. However, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe refused to overturn the sentence. “The record before me does not contain sufficient evidence to warrant the extraordinary step of overturning the decision of a lawfully impaneled jury following a properly conducted trial,” McAuliffe said.

Morva was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing Montgomery County sheriff’s Deputy Eric Sutphin and security guard Derrick McFarland in 2006. He was serving time in the Montgomery County Jail on robbery charges. While escaping from custody, he shot the security guard dead and killed the deputy sheriff the next day.

The demands for Morva’s clemency were doing the rounds after his lawyers claimed that he was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of attacks. It was after careful analysis of his mental state that the jury decided to uphold the sentence. Morva became the 13th person to be executed in the U.S. this year. It was the 113th execution in Virginia since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. It places Virginia second on the list of states with the highest number of executions in the U.S., preceded by Texas with 542 executions.

The execution of Morva has fueled a debate about capital punishment. While daughter of the slain deputy sheriff demanded clemency for Morva, saying that she opposed the idea of the death penalty on moral and religious grounds, the deputy’s mother wanted him to be executed. Mary Pettitt, the prosecutor in the case, appreciated the governor’s decision and called it fair and lawful. On the contrary, Amnesty International opposed the decision and referred to it as “appalling.”

Sister Helen Prejean, a leading American advocate working for the abolition of the death penalty, tweeted, “There is something very wrong with a legal system that allows states to execute mentally ill prisoners. Where is our Supreme Court?”

Need of raising awareness about mental health problems

Amid the debate over the death penalty, what should not be missed is the importance of mental health. Government and non-governmental agencies should work in tandem to raise awareness about the mental health problems, and their early detection and treatment. It will not only help people with such illnesses enjoy a better quality of life but also reduce the number of suicides and other violent activities, which have risen in recent times.

Mental illnesses can be treated with timely medical intervention. If a person is grappling with any mental disorder, he/she should immediately seek professional help from a reputed mental health care provider. Remember that psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have life-threatening consequences if left untreated. The 24/7 Mental Health Helpline offers support to people struggling with mental health problems by providing them guidance about the usefulness of treatment and rehab centers in Florida. You can consult with one of our mental health specialists online or by calling our 24/7 helpline 855-653-8178.