Looming execution divides mother, daughter of slain deputy

PHOTO/The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The daughter of a sheriff’s deputy killed by a man set to be executed in Virginia said Wednesday that she has urged the state’s governor to spare the man’s life, but the slain deputy’s mother says she hopes the prisoner is executed.

William Morva is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday for the 2006 killings of Derrick McFarland, a hospital security guard, and Eric Sutphin, a sheriff’s deputy.

Rachel Sutphin, the deputy’s daughter, said she is among those urging Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe to halt Morva’s execution.

“I am against the death penalty for religious and moral reasons,” Sutphin said in an email to reporters. “I have fought and will continue to fight for clemency for all death row inmates until Virginia declares the death penalty unconstitutional. I have sent my own letter to the Governor showing my support for clemency,” she said.

Meanwhile, the deputy’s mother says that while she feels sympathy for Morva’s family, she does not want the governor to intervene.

“I have no hatred for this creature who shot him execution-style. I just want justice for my son,” Jeaneen Sutphin told The Roanoke Times in her Virginia home Wednesday.

Morva was awaiting trial on attempted robbery charges in 2005 when he was taken to the hospital to have an injury treated. There, he attacked a sheriff’s deputy with a metal toilet paper holder, stole the deputy’s gun and shot McFarland, in the face from two feet away before fleeing. McFarland was unarmed.

A day later, Morva killed Eric Sutphin with a bullet in the back of the head. The sheriff’s deputy had been searching for Morva near Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus when he was shot. Morva was later found in a ditch with the deputy’s gun nearby.

Morva’s attorneys argue his crimes were the result of a severe mental illness that makes it impossible for him to distinguish between delusions and reality.

Jurors were told Morva suffered from a personality disorder that resulted in “odd beliefs.” He has since been diagnosed with delusional disorder, a more severe mental illness akin to schizophrenia, his attorneys say.

Before his escape, Morva told his mother that his health was “dwindling” and that someone in jail wanted him to die. His attorneys say his escape and the killings were spurred by Morva’s belief that his life in jail was at risk.

Morva’s clemency bid has gotten support from national mental health advocates, several Virginia lawmakers and two United Nations human rights experts.

“We are concerned at Mr. Morva’s deteriorating psychosocial condition,” U.N. Special Rapporteurs Agnes Callamard and Dainius Pûras said in a statement Wednesday. “The denial of reasonable accommodation in detention can be considered a form of discrimination against him because of his mental health condition,” they said.

Other relatives of Sutphin and McFarland either haven’t returned calls or could not be reached.

A prosecutor in Morva’s case has urged McAuliffe not to intervene, saying in a letter that several experts who examined Morva before his trial agreed he had a “superior IQ” and suffered from a variety of personality disorders.

“To assert some 10 years later that all three of the original experts were wrong is absurd,” Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt told McAuliffe. “With enough time and motivation one can always find an expert to say what you want to hear but that doesn’t mean it’s true or accurate,” she said.

McAuliffe, a Catholic who says he personally opposes the death penalty but has an obligation to uphold the law as governor, has called off one execution since taking office. In April, he granted clemency to Ivan Teleguz, saying jurors in the murder-for-hire case were given false information that may have swayed sentencing.

Virginia governors have halted executions for mental health concerns before. In 2008, Gov. Tim Kaine commuted a man’s death sentence amid concerns about his competence. A decade earlier, Gov. Jim Gilmore spared a man with schizophrenia.

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