In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Virginia plans to execute Will Morva, a man suffering from a serious mental illness, on July 6

William Morva, a man with a serious mental illness
William Morva, a man with a serious mental illness
William Morva is scheduled to be executed by Virginia on July 6, 2017.

William Charles Morva was born in Virginia in 1982 to Elizabeth and Charles Morva. The family lived in the Chesterfield area and the kids attended local public schools. The whole family was very involved in the soccer community. Both parents coached and played soccer and the four youngest children played.

William’s friends and family members described him as a sweet, sensitive, and compassionate boy. William took a personal interest in the private struggles of his numerous friends and acquaintances, showing more concern for them than for the challenges in his own life. He encouraged those he cared about, and he rarely talked about himself or his personal problems. 

One friend described that, “Will was a great guy. He was someone I enjoyed being around and just wanted to talk to or hug whenever I saw him. Will enjoyed being around people. He did not judge others. . . . People were drawn to Will’s personality.” Like his friends, William was intellectually curious about the world around him. He enjoyed talking about politics, social justice, philosophy, religion, and the arts.

"Odd behaviors"

Friends and family recall William beginning to exhibit odd behaviors in his senior year of high school and eventually he dropped out a few months before his class graduated.

After his parents moved back to the Richmond area, William stayed in the family’s Blacksburg townhouse by himself. He began complaining to friends that staying in the house was poisoning him because it was infested with mold and other toxins, although none of his friends saw evidence of the mold or other toxins William complained of. Eventually, William told people he had to move out because the house was killing him.
For the next five years, William stayed with a series of friends. These friends confirm that William was very concerned about his physical health, particularly his gastrointestinal health. He adopted an odd diet, which consisted of raw or nearly raw meat and large quantities of dairy products, such as cheese. At other times, he claimed to eat only nuts, berries, and pinecones. He claimed that these diet modifications were necessary to accommodate his severe stomach problems.

William also required a block of three to four hours to move his bowels. A gastroenterologist eventually diagnosed him with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but concluded that not all of the symptoms William described made scientific sense. The doctor was also puzzled by William’s claim to have alleviated his symptoms with a diet that should have exacerbated the problem. Because of his physical ailments and his methods of self-treatment, William had difficulty obtaining and keeping employment. He was frequently fired or quit when an employer was unable to make the accommodations he believed he needed for personal health and hygiene.

"Chosen to fix the world's problems"

​During this same time period, friends also noticed that William was becoming more rigid in his thinking about certain issues. They described his views as inflexible, irrational, and unusual. William could no longer engage in a back-and-forth dialogue. William confided to close friends that he had been chosen to fix the world’s problems and save certain indigenous populations, and he believed he could save “the innocent ones from the destructive forces in the world.” 

William confided in a close friend “that he felt like he was being called by some grand entity—like a religious calling. . . . He said he was being called forth to reckon with certain negative powers.” William shared his belief that he possessed special powers, skills, or knowledge with several people, but was often vague about the source of these gifts.

William talked about training in preparation for this mission. He told friends and family members that he was living in the woods for weeks at a time—hunting, building shelters, and learning how to forage to survive. He began running to get in shape and walked barefoot on even the coldest days in order to toughen up his feet. Multiple roommates described coming home to find him going through military like maneuvers to train for a coming apocalypse.
​At times, William described more concrete plans. He told one friend that he planned to go live with a secret, hidden tribe of indigenous people in South America. Although William described the tribe as aggressive and unwelcoming to strangers, William believed the people would recognize him by his facial features and welcome him. 

Other times, he described plans to go to Alaska and stand with the Inuit, although no one was aware of any ongoing confrontation between the Inuit and another group. William even claimed to have gone to live on a reservation for several weeks, but no one could recall a gap of time that long when Will couldn’t be found in Downtown Blacksburg.

"Truly ill"

Although many people attributed the changes in William to his father’s death in April 2004, concrete examples of William’s decline were apparent long before. As early as 2001, Virginia Tech police found William undressed on a bathroom floor in one of the buildings on campus acting very bizarrely. Will’s explanation was that he needed to use the restroom. When law enforcement called William’s mother, she asked for a Temporary Detention Order because she was concerned about his mental wellbeing. Officers assured her that a Temporary Detention Order was unnecessary because William was no longer excited.
​By the summer of 2005, William had fallen out of touch with most of his longtime friends. William claimed that the local police were conspiring with the Bush Administration against him. He believed the phones he used were being tapped and that he was being followed. Old friends almost universally recognized that William was truly ill, but they did not know how to intervene or help. Because William was an adult, his family felt limited in what they could do to help.

"Ill-conceived and poorly-executed attempted thefts"

In August 2005, William was arrested for attempting to rob a convenience store. The clerk testified that masked men approached the glass doors of the store. When the automatic doors did not open automatically, the men ran away. Eventually, William was charged with a string of attempted thefts—each as ill-conceived and poorly executed as the next. The other young men were bailed out and received minimal punishment. William was not. By this time, William’s mother knew he was sick. She was concerned that if he was bailed out of jail, he would not receive the treatment she recognized he so desperately needed.

William was held at the Montgomery County Jail for a year awaiting trial. The jail was overcrowded. Other men held with William describe their incarceration as feeling like “sardines in a can, packed in right next to each other.” The jail was so overcrowded that people could not be assigned to a cell. Many slept side-by-side on the floor of the common area. Government documents show that the jail was on average at 273% capacity around 2005 and 2006, shooting up to 333% capacity at least once. The jail also was notorious for its lack of health care, and officials refused to treat William’s digestive issues.

Although multiple family members contacted the jail officials to express concern about William’s mental health, William was not evaluated or treated by any psychologist or psychiatrist at the jail. William’s symptoms grew worse in this environment, and he believed that he has been wrongfully arrested. He also believed that his physical health was deteriorating dramatically and that he had been jailed in such conditions in order to cause his death. He grew more terrified every day.

Hospital security guard, deputy Sheriff shot and killed

In August 2006, he complained of an injury and was taken to a local hospital for treatment. While there, he overpowered the guard who escorted him and took his service weapon. On the way out the hospital doors, he shot and killed Derrick McFarland, an unarmed hospital security guard. A manhunt began. The next day when Cpl. Eric Sutphin of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department approached him on a local walking trail, William fatally shot him. He was captured later that afternoon and returned to custody.

In conversations with friends, William has insisted that he acted rationally by escaping custody to save his own life. He maintains that everyone would have done exactly the same thing if they were in his place.

Delusional disorder

In 2014, a forensic psychiatrist evaluated William Morva and diagnosed him with delusional disorder. Delusional disorder is a psychotic disorder, characterized by the presence of at least one delusion that lasts for at least a month. Delusions are fixed, false beliefs about reality that are earnestly and steadfastly maintained despite incontrovertible and obvious proof that they are false. DSM-5 at 819. They are not merely strongly held, unpopular opinions. A person who suffers from delusional disorder is incapable of distinguishing between his delusions and objective reality. There are several subtypes of delusions, and William suffers from at least three types.

People with persecutory delusions believe they are “being conspired against, cheated, spied on, poisoned or drugged . . . harassed, or obstructed in the pursuit of long-term goals.” DSM-5 § 297.1. Before William was arrested on attempted robbery charges, he believed that the Blacksburg Police Department was conspiring with the Bush Administration in order to falsely implicate him in a crime or otherwise harass him. He insisted that government officials were listening to him via phone taps and following him. 

When William was arrested on attempted robbery charges in 2005, he insisted that the arrest was a pretext for silencing him. He believed that conditions in the Montgomery County Jail were so awful that he would die if he remained in custody there, and that this was the reason he was arrested and jailed in the first place. In more recent years, William has come to believe that his lawyers have been bribed by the government and are intentionally trying to botch his appeals to ensure his execution.

People experiencing grandiose delusions may believe that they have some great and unrecognized talent. Often grandiose delusions have a religious or spiritual context. DSM-5 § 297.1. In the years before the crimes, William told close friends that he felt like he was being called by some grand entity—like a religious calling or a call to battle. He told his brother that the White Buffalo came to him in spirit form and informed him that he was going to be the next savior of the Native American people.

William talked to friends about having exceptional abilities and skills that others do not possess, like special combat capabilities that enabled him to do extraordinary things. He confided to a few friends his plans to seek out isolated indigenous tribes and save them from unspecified threats. He believed these people would recognize him by his facial features and welcome him.

Like other individuals with delusional disorder, William is able to speak coherently and intelligently about a wide variety of subjects, but becomes irrational and emotional when discussing any matters that touch upon the subjects of his various delusions.

Morva execution set for July 6

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.

In a brief Tuesday conference call with attorneys and state officials, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert Turk scheduled Morva’s execution for July 6. With the time to seek a rehearing by the Supreme Court expired, “all that’s left” is to set a date for the sentence to be imposed, Turk said.

Immediately after the conference call, the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center released a statement calling Morva “a severely mentally ill man” whose crimes were motivated by delusional disorder.

“Justice is not served by executing a severely mentally ill man,” attorney Dawn Davison, who represented Morva, said in the statement. “We urge Gov. McAuliffe to act with compassion and use his power to stop this unjust execution.”

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 binge 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 with Virginia Tech shutting down on its first day of classes.

Morva was hiding near the Huckleberry Trail in Blacksburg when he encountered and shot Sutphin, who was searching for the fugitive.

Hours later, Morva was located and arrested while hiding in a ditch near where he’d killed Sutphin .

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. -- The Roanoke Times, Mike Gangloff, May 9, 2017


- Sign Today: Sign the change.org petition urging Governor Terry McAuliffe to grant clemency to William Morva.

- Contact the Governor: Call (804-786-2211) or email Governor Terry McAuliffe and ask him to grant clemency to William Morva. See a sample letter for suggested text.

- Stay Connected: Follow us on social media

- Tell Your Friends: Share William's website with friends and family to spread the word.

Source: Mercy for Morva, June 2017


William Morva, a 35-year-old US-Hungarian national, is due to be executed in Virginia on 6 July. A psychiatrist has diagnosed him with delusional disorder, and concluded that this contributed to the crimes for which he was sentenced to death. The jury was not told that he had this serious mental disability.

Write a letter, send an email, call, fax or tweet:

* Calling for commutation of William Morva’s death sentence and medical care for his mental disability;

* Noting the diagnosis of delusional disorder, but that the jurors were told he had a less serious mental disability and did not experience delusions, denying them a full picture of who they were being asked to sentence;

* Explaining that you are not seeking to downplay the seriousness of violent crime or its consequences.

Friendly reminder: If you send an email, please create your own instead of forwarding this one!

Contact below official by 6 July, 2017 (by 22 June if possible, in case of early decision):

Governor Terry McAuliffe,
Common Ground for Virginia
P.O. Box 1475, Richmond, VA 23218, USA

Phone: +1 804-786-2211 | Fax: +1 804-371-6531
Email (via website):
Twitter: @TerryMcAuliffe

Salutation: Dear Governor

➤ Note: The Governor’s contact form requires a US-based address and telephone number in order to submit an appeal. We encourage you to use the comment form on their website, and if you are based outside of the US, to instead use AI USA’s New York contact details as your address/telephone number:

Amnesty International USA New York Office
5 Penn Plaza, New York, NY, 10001, USA
Phone: 212.633.4187

⚑ | Report an error, an omission, a typo; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; submit a piece, a comment; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.

Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

New Hampshire: More than 50,000 anti-death penalty signatures delivered to Sununu

Texas executes Juan Castillo

Texas: The accused Santa Fe shooter will never get the death penalty. Here’s why.

Mary Jane Veloso: The woman the firing squad left behind

Five executed in Iran, two hanged in public

The secret executions in Europe's 'last dictatorship'

Collection of items from the career of Britain's most famous executioner discovered

What Indiana officials want to keep secret about executions

In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

China: Appeal of nanny's death penalty sentence wraps up