CHRISTIANSBURG — An execution date has been set – again – for William Charles Morva.
This time, however, the death sentence that Morva received in 2008 seems likely to be enacted. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Morva’s final appeal.
After a Tuesday conference call with state officials, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert Turk scheduled Morva’s execution for July 6.
Morva, a former Blacksburg resident now being held at Sussex I State Prison, was convicted of three counts of capital murder for an August 2006 spree that began with his escape from custody and included the murders of Derrick McFarland, a security officer at Montgomery Regional Hospital, and Eric Sutphin, a corporal with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Morva’s third murder conviction came from killing two people in less than three years, a capital crime in Virginia.
Then 24, Morva was in jail for a series of robbery attempts when he reported that he had injured himself in a fall in his cell. He was taken to the hospital, where he was able to knock out the deputy guarding him and take the deputy’s gun. He then shot McFarland and ran from the hospital. A 37-hour manhunt ensued with law enforcement officers stopping motorists and searching their vehicles and Virginia Tech shutting down on its first day of classes.
Morva was near the Huckleberry Trail in Blacksburg when he encountered and shot Sutphin, who was searching for the fugitive.
Hours later, Morva was located hiding in a ditch near where he’d killed Sutphin and was arrested.
A long legal struggle began, with Morva’s trial being moved to Abingdon after a judge decided that too many people in Montgomery County had strong ties to the case. Morva was found guilty and a jury recommended the death penalty.
Morva’s immediate response to his sentence was to snap his fingers and mouth “Don’t worry” to friends who were crying in the court’s spectator area.
His execution was scheduled and delayed as an appeals process lasted nine years.
The bid for a hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court was the final step of that process. Now Morva’s only hope to avoid execution may be last-minute intervention by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who in April commuted a prisoner’s sentence from death to life in prison in a murder-for-hire case. McAuliffe said he spared Ivan Teleguz not because he thought he was not guilty but because the sentencing phase of his trial had been unfair, with jurors given false information.
Virginia has executed 112 people since the death penalty was re-introduced in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Virginia and Oklahoma are tied for second place in the center’s ranking of the number of executions by states, surpassed only by Texas, which has killed 542 people in the same time period.
The most recent execution in Virginia was in January, when Ricky Javon Gray died by lethal injection for the 2006 murders of two sisters in Richmond during a rampage that included killing their parents.
Virginia's executions are conducted at the Greenville Correctional Facility in Jarratt.